In recent years it has become increasingly common for roboticists to take inspiration from insects, including flying insects like bees and flies. Tiny flying robots would be useful in many situations where the operating environment is cramped, and so a lot of effort has been put into reproducing the biological flight mechanisms of insects. But, most of the results we’ve seen have been underwhelming, with the majority of insect-inspired robots requiring a tether — if they fly at all. This new fly-like robot, however, is capable of impressive aerobatic flight without a tether.
Most truly small flying robots need a tether because they need to be extremely lightweight. The tether often provides either power or control, so that batteries and microcontrollers don’t weigh down the actual robot. But, that means those robots are limited to flying in a small area. DelFly, from the Micro Air Vehicle Laboratory of the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, does away with the tether and still manages to perform remarkably well.
In all fairness, this is much larger than an actual fly. It has a total wingspan of about 13 inches, which is more on par with a medium size bat. But, its flight dynamics are still very similar to that of a fly with its four wings. Those wings are constructed of thin Mylar — the same polyester film that’s used for modern drum heads. That keeps the weight down to just 29g (about 1 ounce), and gives the robot immense maneuverability. For now, it can only fly for about 5 minutes on a single charge, but it’s pretty amazing that it can fly on its own without a tether.