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Locust Flight Simulator Helps Robot Insects Evolve

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locust in wind tunnel

High-speed flash photography tracks the flow of smoke particles over a locust's wings in a wind tunnel and allows University of Oxford researchers to build a computer model of the insect's wing motion.

Credit: Simon Walker / Oxford University

A team at the University of Oxford has built a computer model of the wing motion of a locust, and says the surface structures of the wings are key to generating efficient lift.

Researchers knew very little about the way insects fly until the 1980s, and until now have modeled insect wings by building physical replicas from rigid materials and observing insect flight to estimate how they might move. Developing a locust flight simulator, which uses extremely high-speed flash photography to track the flow of smoke particles over a locust's wings in a wind tunnel, enabled the Oxford team to build the computer model. The team also built software to mimic the insect's wing motion, and how wing surface features and deformation in flight change aerodynamic performance.

Defense agencies around the world are supporting research involving the design of robotic insects. "If we use a wing model with all the complex curves, twists and corrugations of the real insect it is 50 percent more efficient than a model with rigid flat-plate wings, for the same lift generation," says lead researcher Adrian Thomas. "That would be a huge saving in power for a micro air vehicle." Thomas' team plans to adjust the software to enable the simulator to model other insects.

From New Scientist
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