Mechanical design and manufacturing of an insect-scale flapping-wing robot

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Mechanical design and manufacturing of an insect-scale flapping-wing robot

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Title: Mechanical design and manufacturing of an insect-scale flapping-wing robot
Author: Ma, Kevin Yuan
Citation: Ma, Kevin Yuan. 2015. Mechanical design and manufacturing of an insect-scale flapping-wing robot. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University, Graduate School of Arts & Sciences.
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Abstract: Despite the prevalence of insect flight as a form of locomotion in nature, manmade aerial systems have yet to match the aerial prowess of flying insects. Within a tiny body volume, flying insects embody the capabilities to flap seemingly insubstantial wings at very high frequencies and sustain beyond their own body weight in flight. A precise authority over their wing motions enables them to respond to obstacles and threats in flight with unrivaled speed and grace.

Motivated by a desire for comparably agile flying machines, research efforts in the last decade have generated crucial developments for realizing an artificial instantiation of insect flight. The need for tiny, high-efficiency mechanical components has produced unconventional solutions for propulsion, actuation, and manufacturing. Early vehicle designs proved to be flightworthy but were critically limited by the inability to produce control torques in flight. In this thesis, we synthesize all existing technologies for insect-scale manufacturing and actuation, and we introduce a new vehicle design, the "dual actuator bee," to address the need for flight control. Our work culminates in the first demonstration of controlled, hovering flight of an insect-scale, flapping-wing robot.

As the ultimate goal for this research effort is the creation of fully autonomous flying robots, these vehicles must sustain their own power sources and intelligence. To that end, we explore the challenges of scaling flapping-wing flight to attain greater lift forces. Using a scaling heuristic to determine key vehicle specifications, we develop and successfully demonstrate a hover-capable vehicle design that possesses the requisite payload capacity for the full suite of components required for control autonomy. With this operational vehicle as a point of reference, we introduce an iterative sizing procedure for specifying a vehicle design with payload capacity capable of supporting power autonomy. In the development of these vehicles, the reliability of their construction has been a substantial challenge. We present strategies for systematically addressing issues of vehicle construction. Together, this suite of results demonstrates the feasibility of achieving artificial, insect-like flight.
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