Beetle flight inspires research into next gen aircraft design

Beetle flight inspires research into next gen aircraft design
Researchers at Drexel University are examining the function and aerodynamics of the Allomyrina dichotoma beetle in a bid to improve future aircraft design.

The National Science Foundation-funded research, led by associate professor Dr MinJun Kim, aims to study the movements of a beetle's wing by controlling its motion remotely via four tiny electrodes implanted in its body.

The team has plans to film the flight of the beetle from take-off to landing, while electrical currents direct the extension, contraction, direction and flapping frequency of the wings. It is hoped that a wind tunnel will allow the researchers to see how air currents move around the wings they flap during flight.

"Experimental study of the aerodynamic performance of beetles in forward/hovering flight will provide insight into designs for efficient and stable flapping-wing micro aerial vehicles," said Kim.

In the rhinoceros beetle, the Drexel University team found the ideal candidate for the controlled study of biological flight capabilities.

The beetle's size, between 7 and 9cm, meant that it was large enough to allow the engineers to implant electrodes in both optic lobes, the central nervous system and the abdomen, without harming it. It was also a powerful flying creature for its size, having the ability to take flight directly from the ground – which is rare among smaller insects.

"Use of biologically-inspired approaches in the aerospace engineering community, motivated by an interest in micro aerial vehicles, has been increasing rapidly," Kim commented. "Although microfabrication techniques are advancing, it remains a challenge to fabricate separate individual machinery parts and develop millimeter-scale battery systems for aerodynamic maneuverability.

"An alternative approach is to directly utilise the insect itself. They are easily manufactured, and by nature self-contained and easy to fuel."

Laura Hopperton

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