It’s a not a bird and it most certainly isn’t a plane. The flapping object in our video of the week is a tiny robot that most closely resembles a jellyfish but that isn’t actually modeled after any animal.
In search of a simple design that would allow a flying machine to hover and remain stable without complex sensors, Leif Ristroph and Stephen Childress turned to math. Rather than modeling their robot after a flying creature in nature, the two researchers from the Courant Institute at New York University began studying the aerodynamics of basic three-dimensional shapes, such as pyramids. From there they developed this simple, four-winged design. Only after building the 2.1-gram robot did they realize that it looked and moved like a jellyfish pulsing its bell to rise in the water column.
The mathematics underlying the robot’s stability are complex, and even the designers themselves are not entirely certain how it all works. Their results, including their best explanation the robot’s flying success, were published on January 15 in the peer-reviewed Journal of the Royal Society Interface. In addition to sharing their new design and test results, Ristroph and Childress hope that other researchers will help them refine a mathematical model that explains how the robot stays aloft and upright.
Read the full New York Times article about the researchers and their creation
Explore a gallery of other flying robots from CNN
Check out our module Peer Review in Scientific Publishing for more about how publishing in peer reviewed journals aids the scientific process
Written by Christine Hoekenga
Christine is a freelance writer, editor, and content strategist, specializing in science and nature. She holds an Bachelor's degree in Environmental Science and Media Studies and a Master's of Science Writing. She has been working in science communication and education for nearly a decade as a journalist, an organizer for conservation groups, and a museum educator. Before joining the Visionlearning team, she served as the New Media and Online Community Manager for the Webby award-winning Smithsonian Ocean Portal. Christine is assisting Visionlearning with developing new modules and glossary terms, managing the blog, and outreach through social media.