Robotic bumble bee sized drones will explore Mars by flying with flapping insect like wings

Marsbees are robotic flapping wing flyers of a bumblebee size with cicada sized wings. The Marsbees are integrated with sensors and wireless communication devices. The mobile base can act as a recharging station and main communication center. The swarm of Marsbee can significantly enhance the Mars exploration mission with the following benefits: i) Facilitating reconfigurable sensor networks; ii) Creation of resilient systems; iii) Sample or data collection using single or collaborative Marsbees.

Key technical innovation includes the use of insect-like compliant wings to enhance aerodynamics and a low power design. High lift coefficients will be achieved by properly achieving dynamic similarity between the bioinspired insect flight regime and the Mars environment. Our preliminary numerical results suggest that a bumblebee with a cicada wing can generate sufficient lift to hover in the Martian atmosphere. Moreover, the power required by the Marsbee will be substantially reduced by utilizing compliant wing structures and an innovative energy harvesting mechanism. Because of the ultra-low Martian density, the power is dominated by the inertial power. A torsional spring mounted at the wing root to temporarily store otherwise wasted energy and reduce the overall inertial power at resonance. Whereas rotary wing concepts are much more mature in both design and control, these two innovations are uniquely suited to bioinspired flapping vehicles and provide flying near the Martian terrain as a viable means of mobility.

From a systems engineering perspective, the Marsbee offers many benefits over traditional aerospace systems. The smaller volume, designed for the interplanetary spacecraft payload configuration, provides much more flexibility. Also, the Marsbee inherently offers more robustness to individual system failures. Because of its relatively small size and the small volume of airspace needed to test the system, it can be validated in a variety of accessible testing facilities.

The proposed work combines expertise and talent from the US and Japan in a multidisciplinary program to address fundamental aspects of flapping wing flight in Martian atmosphere. The University of Alabama in Huntsville team will numerically model, analyze, and optimize a flapping flyer for Martian atmospheric conditions. The Japanese team will develop and test a micro flapping robot, uniquely designed and constructed for the low-density atmosphere on Mars. The hummingbird Micro-Air Vehicle (MAV), developed by the Japanese team is one of only a few robotic flappers in the world that can fly on Earth.

The objective of Phase I is to determine the wing design, motion, and weight that can hover with optimal power in the Mars atmospheric condition using a high-fidelity numerical model and to assess the hummingbird MAV in the Mars conditions. The aerodynamic performance of the hummingbird MAV will be assessed in a vacuum chamber with the air density reduced to the Mars density. Systems engineering optimization will be performed as well for the entire mission. The maneuverability, wind gust rejection, take-off/landing, power implications, remote sensing, and mission optimization will be addressed in Phase II.

35 thoughts on “Robotic bumble bee sized drones will explore Mars by flying with flapping insect like wings”

  1. Make’em small enough and the square-cube law’s got your back. The ornithopter part I’m not entirely sure of, but they’ve supposedly looked at this for a while, and maybe there are real advantages we can’t see.

    Reply
  2. Make’em small enough and the square-cube law’s got your back. The ornithopter part I’m not entirely sure of but they’ve supposedly looked at this for a while and maybe there are real advantages we can’t see.

    Reply
  3. Linear actuator tech is not as mature as conventional motors. I have seen a working direct-drive (linear actuator) ornithopter though.

    Reply
  4. Linear actuator tech is not as mature as conventional motors.I have seen a working direct-drive (linear actuator) ornithopter though.

    Reply
  5. I do like the robobugs. And it’s possible we’ll get to the point of using enough of them to actually push production into a region of being sort of cheap. As we know, making 1 million chips costs about 10 times more than making 100 of them, which costs 10 times making 1 of them. Space probes and rovers never ever get beyond the 10 of them stage, but if you do actually have a design that needs 100s, then you might as well make up the masks and make 1 000 000 of them, and squeeze a “hive” into every mars mission that has a few kg of spare capacity. And while Mars, and maybe a couple of the outer moons (Mercury??), are about the only place where little flying bugs would work, I think you could use “grasshoppers” anywhere that has gravity and a solid surface.

    Reply
  6. Of course this also means that there could be insect sized, and shaped, and looking, drones monitoring people and places here on Earth too. Not just monitoring either, insects have a long history of being able to injure or kill people. Bee on the lookout for a suspicious collapse in terrorist activity sometime in the next decade or so.

    Reply
  7. I do like the robobugs.And it’s possible we’ll get to the point of using enough of them to actually push production into a region of being sort of cheap.As we know making 1 million chips costs about 10 times more than making 100 of them which costs 10 times making 1 of them. Space probes and rovers never ever get beyond the 10 of them stage but if you do actually have a design that needs 100s then you might as well make up the masks and make 1 000 000 of them and squeeze a hive”” into every mars mission that has a few kg of spare capacity.And while Mars”” and maybe a couple of the outer moons (Mercury??) are about the only place where little flying bugs would work”” I think you could use “”””grasshoppers”””” anywhere that has gravity and a solid surface.”””

    Reply
  8. Of course this also means that there could be insect sized and shaped and looking drones monitoring people and places here on Earth too.Not just monitoring either insects have a long history of being able to injure or kill people.Bee on the lookout for a suspicious collapse in terrorist activity sometime in the next decade or so.

    Reply
  9. I do like the robobugs. And it’s possible we’ll get to the point of using enough of them to actually push production into a region of being sort of cheap. As we know, making 1 million chips costs about 10 times more than making 100 of them, which costs 10 times making 1 of them. Space probes and rovers never ever get beyond the 10 of them stage, but if you do actually have a design that needs 100s, then you might as well make up the masks and make 1 000 000 of them, and squeeze a “hive” into every mars mission that has a few kg of spare capacity. And while Mars, and maybe a couple of the outer moons (Mercury??), are about the only place where little flying bugs would work, I think you could use “grasshoppers” anywhere that has gravity and a solid surface.

    Reply
  10. I do like the robobugs.And it’s possible we’ll get to the point of using enough of them to actually push production into a region of being sort of cheap.As we know making 1 million chips costs about 10 times more than making 100 of them which costs 10 times making 1 of them. Space probes and rovers never ever get beyond the 10 of them stage but if you do actually have a design that needs 100s then you might as well make up the masks and make 1 000 000 of them and squeeze a hive”” into every mars mission that has a few kg of spare capacity.And while Mars”” and maybe a couple of the outer moons (Mercury??) are about the only place where little flying bugs would work”” I think you could use “”””grasshoppers”””” anywhere that has gravity and a solid surface.”””

    Reply
  11. Of course this also means that there could be insect sized, and shaped, and looking, drones monitoring people and places here on Earth too. Not just monitoring either, insects have a long history of being able to injure or kill people. Bee on the lookout for a suspicious collapse in terrorist activity sometime in the next decade or so.

    Reply
  12. Of course this also means that there could be insect sized and shaped and looking drones monitoring people and places here on Earth too.Not just monitoring either insects have a long history of being able to injure or kill people.Bee on the lookout for a suspicious collapse in terrorist activity sometime in the next decade or so.

    Reply
  13. I do like the robobugs.

    And it’s possible we’ll get to the point of using enough of them to actually push production into a region of being sort of cheap.
    As we know, making 1 million chips costs about 10 times more than making 100 of them, which costs 10 times making 1 of them. Space probes and rovers never ever get beyond the 10 of them stage, but if you do actually have a design that needs 100s, then you might as well make up the masks and make 1 000 000 of them, and squeeze a “hive” into every mars mission that has a few kg of spare capacity.

    And while Mars, and maybe a couple of the outer moons (Mercury??), are about the only place where little flying bugs would work, I think you could use “grasshoppers” anywhere that has gravity and a solid surface.

    Reply
  14. Of course this also means that there could be insect sized, and shaped, and looking, drones monitoring people and places here on Earth too.

    Not just monitoring either, insects have a long history of being able to injure or kill people.

    Bee on the lookout for a suspicious collapse in terrorist activity sometime in the next decade or so.

    Reply
  15. Linear actuator tech is not as mature as conventional motors. I have seen a working direct-drive (linear actuator) ornithopter though.

    Reply
  16. Linear actuator tech is not as mature as conventional motors.I have seen a working direct-drive (linear actuator) ornithopter though.

    Reply
  17. Make’em small enough and the square-cube law’s got your back. The ornithopter part I’m not entirely sure of, but they’ve supposedly looked at this for a while, and maybe there are real advantages we can’t see.

    Reply
  18. Make’em small enough and the square-cube law’s got your back. The ornithopter part I’m not entirely sure of but they’ve supposedly looked at this for a while and maybe there are real advantages we can’t see.

    Reply
  19. Make’em small enough and the square-cube law’s got your back. The ornithopter part I’m not entirely sure of, but they’ve supposedly looked at this for a while, and maybe there are real advantages we can’t see.

    Reply

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