The UK biomimetic engineering startup company Animal Dynamics is developing a microdrone with flapping wings, similar to that of a dragonfly. The project started on June last year, and was funded with £1.5 million from the UK Ministry of Defence via the Defence Science and Technology Lab. The microdrone, named the Skeeter drone, has a body length shorter than a pen, planned to be 120mm at most, great to spy enemy camp for military intelligence, and weighs 20 grams.
Animal Dynamics researchers have found that birds and especially insects with wings can effectively reduce airflow disturbances and achieve low wind resistance. It can even face winds up to 45 km per hour. The radio signal can be reached up to 1,000 meters away, which is essential for long distance communication.
“I think there’s a market for it not just in the military but also elsewhere too, and also at different scales. There’s been a very clear focus requirement to make it at this scale, because they’ve been using something at this scale… but the technology can be scaled up. So one of the reasons we’re looking to raise funding is we’d like to make a bigger one,” Animal Dynamics co-founder and CEO Alex Caccia, said.
“I think there’s a market for it not just in the military but also elsewhere too, and also at different scales. There’s been a very clear focus requirement to make it at this scale, because they’ve been using something at this scale… but the technology can be scaled up. So one of the reasons we’re looking to raise funding is we’d like to make a bigger one,” he says.
“There’s all sorts of advantages you can have with a larger, flapping drone. Far, far more efficient flying from A to B. Can still hover. Much less dangerous. You can put your finger in the flapping wings as they flap and it won’t hurt you… And also with a quadcopter drone, if any of the mechanism fails it falls out of the sky like a brick. Whereas the things that we’re making glide in their neutral position.”
According to Tech Crunch, “This is the activity that Adrian and I first got excited about,” he says. “It’s something we’re hoping to be able to get out this summer — and have a go at breaking the world speed record. Just as a demonstrator of how you can make something flapping go very fast.”
“Propeller design efficiency has basically reached an asymptote, there’s been no real, material improvement in the efficiency of propellers in the last 20 years,” Caccia adds. “Of course everyone thinks flapping is a completely ridiculous thing to do but nature’s way of telling you you’re wasting energy in water is a stream of bubbles. And fish don’t produce a stream of bubbles when they’re going about… So we’re interested in all sorts of areas. We’re making an out-board motor that uses it. It’s also very, very quiet… And we’re making our human-powered boat. And it would be wonderful to see larger vessels using it too.”