Giving Robotic Flight More Buzz: Bee Study Could Improve Micro Air Vehicle Agility in Wind Gusts

July 30, 2010
Composite sequence of images of a honey bee disturbed by a moderate gust (air flow from left to right). (Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland.)

(PhysOrg.com) -- Not every engineering dean wants a live bee colony outside of his office, but such is the case at the Clark School of Engineering at the University of Maryland, College Park.

Researchers in a lab down the hall from the dean's office have situated the colony there so they have easy access to the bees. They are studying how the bees fly in order to enable micro air vehicles (MAV) to deal with unexpected wind changes. The MAVs someday could be used for search and rescue, defense and other applications.

To study the bees in flight, the researchers built a small-scale wind tunnel that subjects the insects to varying wind disturbances. The researchers film the bees using high-speed videography and slow down the resulting video, so they can observe the minutest changes in the bees' wing movements while compensating for wind gusts.

“Insects fly in very dynamic and uncertain environments. By replicating these conditions in the lab, we can identify mechanisms that enable insects’ robust ,” said Jason T. Vance, a biologist and post-doctoral researcher in the Laboratory (AVL) at the A. James Clark School of Engineering on the University of Maryland, College Park, campus.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

Video: Honey bees use asymmetric wing strokes for a quick response to gusts. (Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland.)

Vance said his team couples the data collected with aerodynamic modeling principles to determine what aspects of the bees' flight can be used in the MAVs.

Assistant Professor Sean Humbert (Department of and Institute for Systems Research) runs the AVL. He is one of several researchers who last week won a Multidisciplinary University Research Initiatives award from the U.S. Department of Defense for research titled "Animal Inspired Robust Flight with Outer and Inner Loop Strategies." The research is being led by the University of Washington. The Clark School's portion of the grant is $1.48 million.

Vance and Humbert are collaborating with biologists, engineers, and other researchers in academia and the private sector to enable tiny flying robots to fly effectively in varying wind conditions. These robots eventually could be used to help gain situational awareness in dangerous and uncertain environments, such as those encountered on the battlefield or during natural disasters.

"It's a very integrative and multi-disciplinary approach for studying this principle," Vance said.

Engineers at the Glenn L. Martin Wind Tunnel on the College Park campus helped the AVL team fabricate the small-scale used to study the , which are on loan from the UM Department of Entomology.

Explore further: Texas aerospace engineers to test energy-efficient wing design

Related Stories

Birds, bats and insects hold secrets for aerospace engineers

February 4, 2008

Natural flyers like birds, bats and insects outperform man-made aircraft in aerobatics and efficiency. University of Michigan engineers are studying these animals as a step toward designing flapping-wing planes with wingspans ...

Recommended for you

Robo-whiskers mimic animals exploring their surroundings

August 4, 2015

Many mammals, including seals and rats, rely on their whiskers to sense their way through dark environments. Inspired by these animals, scientists working at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and Illinois' Advanced ...

Thunderstrike 2: Proof-of-concept worm could infect Macs

August 4, 2015

Two researchers, Xeno Kovah co-founder of LegbaCore and Trammell Hudson, a security engineer with Two Sigma Investments, have created a proof of concept worm capable of attacking Mac computers. The worm which they designed ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.