CAREER: Towards Integrated Understanding and Informed Mimicry of Insect Flight Mechanics and Control with Application to Micro Air Vehicles

Project: Research project

Project Details


This Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) project focuses on connections between flying insects and innovative micro air vehicle design. Flying insects display agility, endurance and efficiency well beyond what is achievable by any engineered aerial system of similar size. Efforts to understand and reproduce these capabilities are hampered by the challenge of performing controlled experiments on live insects in reasonably natural conditions. This project will use magnetic levitation to study the closed-loop mechanics and control of insect flight with minimal interference from cumbersome mechanical constraints. The principles derived from these studies will not only allow engineering translation of appropriate flapping-wing flight strategies, but also will delimit the regions in which more conventional rotary or fixed wing designs outperform biomimetic approaches. Understanding how flying insects function with integrated sensing and control, but limited computational capabilities will enable development of miniaturized and efficient sensing, and computation technologies for future micro air vehicles. The products of this research, from experiments and high-speed footage of insect flight to robotic insect platforms, will be translated into interactive exhibits for education and outreach, to increase public awareness and interest in science and engineering.

Through synergistic integration of novel experimental apparatus and theoretical tools, the flight performance and the underlying dynamics, sensing and control principles of insect flight will be studied with the support of this award. In this process, this research will advance the studies of insect flight with three primary goals: (i) develop a suite of novel experimental apparatus that overcomes the limitations in the conventional tethered and free-flight insect experiments, therefore, enable controlled experiments on live insects engaged in a variety of flight maneuvers; (ii) derive functional models of insect sensorimotor control system, encompassing low-level reflexive control for local stability and high-level control for global maneuverability. Such models will elucidate how insects solve robust flight control problem subjected to unstable flight dynamics and limited neural control resources; (iii) systematically compare the aerodynamic power and efficiency between flapping flight and rotary flight, therefore determining under which condition flapping wing surpasses rotary wing as a more advantageous solution to millimeter-scale micro air vehicles.

Effective start/end date7/1/169/30/21


  • National Science Foundation: $532,000.00


Explore the research topics touched on by this project. These labels are generated based on the underlying awards/grants. Together they form a unique fingerprint.