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Video: The Delicate Flutter of Robotic Butterfly Wings

DiscoblogBy Joseph CalamiaMay 21, 2010 8:15 PM


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Butterfly in the sky, researchers wonder how you fly. To this end, Harvard University's Hiroto Tanaka and the University of Tokyo's Isao Shimoyama have built a butterfly doppelganger by combining angelic plastic wings, balsa wood, and rubber bands. The exact model for this "ornithopter" is the swallowtail: Tanaka and Shimoyama mimicked the exact size and weight of a flesh-and-bloodmember of the Papilionidae family. They even made detailed plastic veins on their butterfly's polymer wings. As the BBC reports, a high-speed video of their model's flight allowed Tanaka and Shimoyama to calculate the forces on the insect's wings. Also, by constructing the butterfly themselves, they could determine the essential bug pieces for forward flight. They found, for example, that those pretty veins are a must, but that the creatures need not continually adjust their wings during flight as other insects do. Bioinspiration & Biomimetics will publish their complete paper in June. Given existing robotic caterpillars, is anyone thinking Transformer? Related content: 80beats: Monarch Butterflies Navigate With Sun-Sensing Antennae Not Exactly Rocket Science: Caterpillars must walk before they can anally scrape Not Exactly Rocket Science: Butterflies evolve resistance to male-killing bacteria in record time DISCOVER: The Calculating Beauty of Butterflies (photo gallery)

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