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Scientists Develop First Cable-Driven Robot that Can Keep Up with Free-Flying Insects

The researchers tracked moths who flew at speeds of 3 meters/second.

When it comes to engineering new robots, scientists are often inspired by insects. From acrobatic robots that mimic insect flight to cell-sized organisms, experts are always coming up with new robots that are somehow related to these tiny and yet marvelous pests.

RELATED: BUG LIFE: THESE 5 ROBOTS WERE INSPIRED BY INSECTS 

Now, scientists from the CNRS, Université de Lorraine, and Inrae1 have developed the first cable-driven robot that can keep up with free-flying insects. Flying insects have unique traits that allow them to expertly navigate natural environments.

Scientists have long tried to study them but this proved challenging due to their size and their high speed of motion. In fact, so far, it was only possible to study them when they were in stationary flight.

This has all changed now as the team from CNRS and their colleagues were successful in studying moths in free flight. Yes! You read that right: free flight!

The researchers achieved this with what they call “lab-on-cables,” a contraption which is equipped with cameras and a controller that together minimize tracking errors between the insect’s and the robot’s positions.

The moths studied were the Agrotis ipsilon, a type that is approximately 2 cm long and can fly at an impressive speed of up to 3 meters/second. Now, the novel research may pave the way for studying, tracking and keeping up with other insects such as fruit flies or mosquitos.

In addition, it opens the doors to better understanding the orientation strategies of these insects in response to various stimuli. This could, in turn, lead to better more advanced robotics that can mimic other insect traits.

The study is published in Science Robotics.

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