When it comes to energy efficient dynamics, engineers know that gliding is the best way to move. From giant jellyfish to manta rays, researchers have already seen that minimal motion can be a great advantage to propulsion. Scientists at Stanford have created a small robot inspired by a flying fish that can travel through the air farther than a “ballistic jumping” machine. The aircraft can also adjust its launch angle depending on the surface to move and land gracefully without having to sacrifice distance.
In order to reduce drag, the scientists made sure that the wing is able to pivot so that it can align with the direction of its trajectory. Once it reaches peak altitude after takeoff, the wing locks into place against the body with the aid of magnets. The team experimented with airspeed to create the most efficient wing shape and length, finding a 70cm wing to be the best fit for the 30g jumpglider. The frame was created from balsa wood and and a carbon fiber ProFormance foam wing in order to reduce the weight.
Using a high-speed camera to dissect the robot’s performance, the team found that the glider cannot jump as high as its conventional robots of the same weight and using the same amount of energy. However, it was able to jump farther than its counterparts with a horizontal launch, and its distance varied depending on the angle. Its best runs were 58 degrees and 45 degrees. At the moment, the glider is not completely autonomous, and its spring needs to be manually loaded. Even so, the developments stand as one small step for a small aircraft and one giant gliding leap for robot kind.