Dec. 4 - Drone developers are increasingly attempting to mimic the flight mechanics of birds an insects for the next generation of miniature, autonomous aircraft, but one researcher in New York, has found inspiration in the sea. Leif Ristroph of New York University is developing a robot that replicates the pulsating motion of the jellyfish as an alternative drive system for future drones. Sharon Reich reports.
TV AND WEB RESTRICTIONS~**NONE~** Pigs don't fly and neither do jellyfish…at least not yet. But fluid dynamics researchers at NYU think the jellyfish is the ideal model for future aerial robots. By mimicking the jellyfish's natural propulsion mechanism, mathematics professor Leif Ristrop believes they can build a new generation of multi-winged miniature drones, simpler… but more effective than drones modeled on insect. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEIF RISTROPH, APPLIED MATHEMATICS PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Insects are basically only able to keep upright in the air because they have special sensors that tell them when they're getting knocked around by an air current and how to compensate with different wing motions to keep upright. My strategy was to find a scheme where you could just have flapping wings alone and that was it and be able to keep upright, just with flapping wings. It's sort of a simpler scheme. That this scheme Involving jellyfish like motions ends up working well, was a complete surprise, we wouldn't have been able to predict it." Ristropoh says a future jellyfish drone would be ideally suited to aerial surveillance or environmental monitoring. The prototype comprises four flapping wings that work in unison to keep the robot stable in gusts of wind. (SOUNDBITE) (English) LEIF RISTROPH, APPLIED MATHEMATICS PROFESSOR, NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "It's like a jellyfish in that it contracts these wings and then pushes them back out. Of course the difference is that our prototype has four distinct wings and a jellyfish would have a continuous surface that it pulls in and opens back up and ours is in the air so it's squirting air downward to generate lift, and of course a jellyfish will contract and squirt water downwards to get from point A to point B." The research is still in its early stages and Ristroph says there are many adjustments to be made. An on-board battery needs to be configured, as well as lightweight cameras and other types of monitoring equipment tailored for such a small vehicle. But he is hopeful that bringing a new perspective to scientific thinking, might mean that one day, fish will fly.