This research encompasses novel attempts in several research topics on flapping flight in insects and birds. The goal of this research is to a) quantitatively study the flight trajectory feasibility and stability observed in insects and birds; b) investigate the underlying principles that cause their flight stability and performance differences in order to develop a methodology and guideline for designing flapping wing micro-aerial vehicles; and c) design and fabricate flapping wing micro-aerial vehicles capable of stable and maneuverable flight with biomimetic sensors. Our previous study on the theory of nonlinear systems including harmonic balance and bifurcation methods will be utilized to conduct theoretical and mathematical modeling of flapping flight. We will verify our analysis using the free-flight measurements on the fruit fly and the experimental data from the current generation of fabricated Micromechanical Flying Insects (MFIs). Based on our analysis, we will develop guidelines to aid the design and fabrication of future MFIs and flapping wing micro-aerial vehicle in general, with the capability to ensure the flight feasibility and stability of the vehicle.
The theories developed from this research will provide new understanding of the inherent flight stability and maneuverability present in insects and birds, and hopefully will lead to developing a new theory describing the underlying principles of the different flight phenomena observed in nature.
The educational activities include incorporating research materials into graduate and undergraduate curricula, and the developed research and educational activities will be outreached to the K-12 students and teachers as well as underrepresented and women groups in Delaware through the University of Delaware's Design and Discovery summer camp for girls. Another broader impact of this program will be to create an Internet-based flapping flight gait simulator accessible to students and researchers to simulate and visualize realistic flight patterns of different insects and birds, given their morphological data.
This project focused on the investigation of the underlying principles of insect flight and the development of flapping wing micro aerial vehicles. This project resulted in significant contributions on several research frontier topics in flapping flight, including aerodynamics of flexible wings, wing-wing interactions in dragonflies, flight dynamics and stability analysis, active control of flight maneuvers in real animals, and the development of high frequency flapping wing robotic insects. Results of this project were published in top biology and engineering journals and conference papers such as Science, Journal of Experimental Biology, and IEEE Transactions on Robotics. In an recent article published in Science, the PI discovered an inherent mechanism in flapping flight and developed its mathematical model. This new discovery, passive aerodynamic damping torques and forces termed flapping counter force and flapping counter forces, help to explain the flight dynamics of fast turns of a wide range of flying animals from insects to bats and small birds. This discovery was widely reported by news media. Another topic from this project on the pitching recovery in hawk moth revealed the active flight control mechanism employed by flying animals to recover from sudden external and internal disturbances. This finding was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology and was selected as one of the Finalist for the 2011 JEB Outstanding Paper Award. The intellectual merit of this work lies in its efforts to provide a general theory for animal flight, including aerodynamics, dynamics, stability and control through a series of targeted experiments and mathematical modeling. Quantification of animal flight capabilities will set a target for engineering efforts and understanding the animal's strategies for achieving these feats may inspire rapid progress in providing similar capabilities for flying machines. This research directly contribute to the development of new, improved models of flight mechanics, and it substantially advanced our understanding of one of the major forms of animal locomotion. This project resulted in a new graduate course on Bio-inspired Robotics developed by the PI, and graduated three Ph.D. and two (one female) M.S students, meanwhile provided training for twenty undergraduate (two female, one Hispanic) students. The PI's group also participated in various outreach activities including the USA Science and Engineering Festival and summer camps for K-12 students.