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

Jul 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: SensaBubble: It's a bubble, but not as we know it (w/ video)

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

A smart prosthetic knee with in-vivo diagnoses

Apr 22, 2014

The task was to develop intelligent prosthetic joints that, via sensors, are capable of detecting early failure long before a patient suffers. EPFL researchers have taken up the challenge.

Old tires become material for new and improved roads

Apr 22, 2014

(Phys.org) —Americans generate nearly 300 million scrap tires every year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Historically, these worn tires often end up in landfills or, when illegally ...

Students take clot-buster for a spin

Apr 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —In the hands of some Rice University senior engineering students, a fishing rod is more than what it seems. For them, it's a way to help destroy blood clots that threaten lives.

User comments : 0

More news stories

Is nuclear power the only way to avoid geoengineering?

"I think one can argue that if we were to follow a strong nuclear energy pathway—as well as doing everything else that we can—then we can solve the climate problem without doing geoengineering." So says Tom Wigley, one ...

US urged to drop India WTO case on solar

Environmentalists Wednesday urged the United States to drop plans to haul India to the WTO to open its solar market, saying the action would hurt the fight against climate change.