Flapping Flight at the Scale of Insects: Flight Control in Complex Environments

Bee with tracking marker (to measure body dynamics) travels through an “air knife” (step-change) gust.

Foraging insects fly through a range of complex spatial environments whilst compensating for variable and usually strong background airflows (i.e. turbulence, wind, gusts). These insects display clever methods for dealing with these challenges. A furthered understanding of flying organisms may serve as a useful addition in the development and operation of bio-inspired robots, which inevitably must negotiate the same complex environment. This research interrogates bumblebees to identify some of the key control strategies undertaken during flapping flight in common aerodynamic disturbances. By tracking the 3D dynamics of the entire bee, we are able to construct models to evaluate the effects of observed responses and interactions when exposed to a flight challenge. We experimentally validate our models by using dynamically scaled mechanical flappers to put conclusions directly into the perspective of Micro Air Vehicles. Using a combination of cutting-edge experimental techniques and numerical simulations to draw findings, these studies address the crucial control challenges and techniques for of flight at the scale of insects. Through this work, our knowledge of how insect-scale flapping-wing machines can serve as platforms to achieve superior levels of control in a typical outdoor setting is expanded.

Timothy Jakobi