Scientists Develop First Cable-Pushed Robotic that Can Hold Up with Free-Flying Bugs

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When it comes to designing new robots, scientists often take inspiration from insects. From acrobatic robots that mimic the flight of insects to cell-sized organisms, experts are constantly developing new robots that are somehow related to these tiny yet wonderful pests.

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

Scientists have long tried to study them, but this proved difficult because of their size and high speed of movement. In fact, until now it was only possible to study it in stationary flight.

That has now changed as the CNRS team and colleagues successfully studied moths in free flight. Yes! You read that right: free flight!

The researchers achieved this with what they call “lab-on-cables,” a device equipped with cameras and controls that work together to minimize tracking errors between the positions of the insect and the robot.

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

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

The study is published in Science Robotics.