Jellyfish Aircraft Flies by Mimicking Moves of Its Underwater Namesake (Video)

Wednesday, 15 Jan 2014 06:55 AM

By Michael Mullins

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A jellyfish aircraft, mimicking the movement of a jellyfish underwater while flying through the air, has been built by scientists at New York University's Applied Math Lab.

Weighing just .07 ounces, the ultra-light, miniscule device is said to be the first of its kind.

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"We were interested first of all in making a robotic insect that would be an alternative to the helicopter," Leif Ristroph a fluid dynamics researcher at NYU's Applied Math Lab, told Agence France-Presse. "Our interest ended up being a little bit weird — it was the jellyfish."

Due to the jellyfish's primitive nervous system and lack of brain, it has long been admired from an engineering perspective for its simple, yet efficient motion that has been molded by evolution over millions of years.

In the jellyfish aircraft, a small motor is attached to a crankshaft through which the device's four petal-shaped wings, each four inches long, are pushed outwards. The wings force air through a cone at the base of the machine, thereby propelling the device through the air in the same fashion a jellyfish would move in water.

Due to its design, the machine is said to have great stability compared to other drone-like devices.

"If it's knocked over, it stabilizes by itself," Ristroph told the AFP.

When it needs to change direction, one wing works harder than the rest to alter its course, Ristroph added.

According to the NYU researcher, all the materials used in the machine were over-the-counter. The motor, light carbon-fiber that comprise the frame, and the transparent Mylar film that surround the wings were acquired from a hobby shop.

The project was inspired by both nature and the aviation pioneers of the early 20th century.

"We were inspired in part by videos from the 1900s, in the early experimental days of flying. They were very creative in those days, they had lots of very good ideas, but also some bad ones," Ristroph said.

The university has already filed a patent on the design of the device, which is presently in the "proof-of-concept" phase.

Considering an electrical wire powers the prototype, Ristroph said the next step will be to add a battery and remote control to their flying jellyfish aircraft.

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