What could be better than a jellyfish-inspired machine that swims underwater? Well, how about one that flies in the air? A group of scientists from New York University have created just such a contraption, and it could have big implications for tiny flying robots.

Ordinarily, flapping-wing MAVs (micro aerial vehicles) require some sort of automated flight control system, that allows them to respond instantaneously to things like wind gusts. The problem is, besides being difficult to develop, these systems require physical hardware that adds unwanted weight and complexity to the tiny aircraft.

The NYU machine, however, is able to remain stable simply by virtue of its design. Created by Dr. Leif Ristroph, it consists of four wings that are arranged "like the petals of a flower," that flap at a rate of 20 times per second. When rising or falling, its motions do indeed resemble those of a pulsating jellyfish. Once hovering in place, its actions are more like those of a moth.

So far, it still relies on an external hard-wired power source, and it can't be steered. Nonetheless, it's considered a promising proof-of-concept model, that could one day lead to centimeter-sized surveillance, search-and-rescue, or reconnaissance flying robots.

It can be seen in action in a video posted on YouTube.

View gallery - 2 images