The natural world has inspired a lot of technological innovations, but it seems it could also be aiding in the design of future robots. A team from Duke University is researching dragonflies in order to better understand their complex flight dynamics and build better flying robots. How are they doing this? By attaching tiny sensors to their tiny subjects.

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It is easy to understand why dragonflies are a subject of interest for the research team. The winged insects not only hunt in mid-flight, but their agile design allows them to reach speeds of nearly 97 km per hour.

“Dragonfly wings almost swim through the air. They have many more degrees of freedom than an airplane’s wing,” Duke University electrical engineer Matt Reynolds said in a statement to New Scientist. He added that along with a team from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, his people hope to understand how the dragonfly moves in order to incorporate them into future robots and enable them to fly the same way.

By placing a sensor on the insect, the team has been able to collect data on how the dragonfly moves. The data is transmitted via a wi-fi systemafter being collected from the insect’s nerve cords. This enables scientists to follow neuro signals from the insect’s eyes to brain. The chip that Reynolds and his team have developed is only 38 milligrams – that’s less than half the weight of a typical postage stamp.

“Our system provides enough power to the chip attached to a flying dragonfly that it can transmit in real time the electrical signals from many dragonfly neurons,” Reynolds says. The system will also enable studying behavior of small animals remotely for the first time.

The researchers expect to begin flight experiments with dragonflies over the next few months in a specially designed flight arena at HHMI’s Janelia Farm complex equipped with plenty of ponds and flies for their subjects to eat.

+ Duke University

Via New Scientist

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