Miniaturization and new materials have made it possible to create flying robots the size of insects that have many potential uses. As reviewed by Adam Piore* in a Popular Science article, many of the drone features are inspired by watching insects. Sitting in a bar watching a fly smash into the window and almost immediately recover in flight inspired two researchers to incorporate crash recovery into their drone rather than relying totally on crash avoidance. Crash avoidance is most desirable and efficient, but crash recovery makes a drone more durable.
Studies of insect flight have inspired many drone features. The development of high speed image capture has allowed researchers to view insect movement in ultra-slow motion. For example, ultra-slow motion images of flies colliding with a window show that the impact causes the abdominal segments to retract, telescoping into the segment in front of them. The resilin joints in the abdomen exoskeleton absorb much of the force of impact and allow the insect to recover. Movie industry computer animation techniques such as reflective beads used for tracking movements have been used to study stability of insect flight. Attaching reflective beads to hawkmoth wings allows tracking of their response to air turbulence by high speed cameras. Many features of insects act to prevent tumbling and return the insect to a stable flight posture after collisions.
Within 20 years, drones may affordable, useful and in high demand. Drone popularity has the potential to clog the skies. Already governments are scrambling to regulate the use of drones and addressing issues related to privacy and use conflicts. Drone technology is advancing at a rapid pace. The question will not be, “Do we want drones?”. The questions are, “What do we want our drones to do for us?”
*Rise of the Insect Drones. Popular Science.