Researchers say they have built a flying robot. It's not designed to fly like a bird or an insect, but was built to mimic the movements of a swimming jellyfish.
Scientists at New York University say they built the small, flying vehicle to move like the boneless, pulsating, water-dwelling jellyfish.
Leif Ristroph, a post-doctoral student at NYU and a lead researcher on the project, explained that previous flying robots were based on the flight of birds or insects, such as flies.
Last spring, for example, Harvard University researchers announced that they had built an insect-like robot that flies by flapping its wings. The flying robot is so small it has about 1/30th the weight of a U.S. penny.
Before the Harvard work was announced, researchers at the University of Sheffield and the University of Sussex in England worked together to study the brains of honey bees in an attempt to build an autonomous flying robot.
By creating models of the systems in a bee's brain that control vision and sense of smell, scientists hope to build a robot that would be able to sense and act as autonomously as a bee.
The problem with those designs, though, is that the flapping wing of a fly is inherently unstable, Ristroph noted.
"To stay in flight and to maneuver, a fly must constantly monitor its environment to sense every gust of wind or approaching predator, adjusting its flying motion to respond within fractions of a second," Ristroph said. "To recreate that sort of complex control in a mechanical device -- and to squeeze it into a small robotic frame -- is extremely difficult."
To get beyond those challenges, Ristroph built a prototype robot that is 8 centimeters wide and weighs two grams. The robot flies by flapping four wings arranged like petals on a flower that pulsate up and down, resembling the flying motion of a moth.
The machine, according to NYU, can hover and fly in a particular direction.
There is more work still to be done. Ristroph reported that his prototype doesn't have a battery but is attached to an external power source. It also can't steer, either autonomously or via remote control.
The researcher added that the work he's done so far is a blueprint for designing more sophisticated and complex vehicles.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is email@example.com.