Science Current Events | Science News | Brightsurf.com
 

Unraveling a Butterfly's Aerial Antics Could Help Builders of Bug-Size Flying Robots

February 03, 2012

To improve the next generation of insect-size flying machines, Johns Hopkins engineers have been aiming high-speed video cameras at some of the prettiest bugs on the planet. By figuring out how butterflies flutter among flowers with amazing grace and agility, the researchers hope to help small airborne robots mimic these maneuvers.

U.S. defense agencies, which have funded this research, are supporting the development of bug-size flyers to carry out reconnaissance, search-and-rescue and environmental monitoring missions without risking human lives. These devices are commonly called micro aerial vehicles or MAVs.

"For military missions in particular, these MAVs must be able to fly successfully through complex urban environments, where there can be tight spaces and turbulent gusts of wind," said Tiras Lin, a Whiting School of Engineering undergraduate who has been conducting the high-speed video research. "These flying robots will need to be able to turn quickly. But one area in which MAVs are lacking is maneuverability."

To address that shortcoming, Lin has been studying butterflies. "Flying insects are capable of performing a dazzling variety of flight maneuvers," he said. "In designing MAVs, we can learn a lot from flying insects."

Lin's research has been supervised by Rajat Mittal, a professor of mechanical engineering. "This research is important because it attempts to not only address issues related to bio-inspired design of MAVs, but it also explores fundamental questions in biology related to the limits and capabilities of flying insects," Mittal said.

To conduct this study, Lin has been using high-speed video to look at how changes in mass distribution associated with the wing flapping and body deformation of a flying insect help it engage in rapid aerial twists and turns. Lin, a junior mechanical engineering major from San Rafael, Calif., recently presented some of his findings at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society's Division of Fluid Dynamics. The student also won second-prize for his presentation of this research at a regional meeting of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

"Ice skaters who want to spin faster bring their arms in close to their bodies and extend their arms out when they want to slow down," Lin said. "These positions change the spatial distribution of a skater's mass and modify their moment of inertia; this in turn affects the rotation of the skater's body. An insect may be able to do the same thing with its body and wings."

Butterflies move too quickly for someone to see these wing tactics clearly with the naked eye, so Lin, working with graduate student Lingxiao Zheng, used high-speed, high-resolution videogrammetry to mathematically document the trajectory and body conformation of painted lady butterflies. They accomplished this with three video cameras capable of recording 3,000 one-megapixel images per second. (By comparison, a standard video camera shoots 24, 30 or 60 frames per second.)

The Johns Hopkins researchers anchored their cameras in fixed positions and focused them on a small region within a dry transparent aquarium tank. For each analysis, several butterflies were released inside the tank. When a butterfly veered into the focal area, Lin switched on the cameras for about two seconds, collecting approximately 6,000 three-dimensional views of the insect's flight maneuvers. From these frames, the student typically homed in on roughly one-fifth of a second of flight, captured in 600 frames. "Butterflies flap their wings about 25 times per second," Lin said. "That's why we had to take so many pictures."

The arrangement of the three cameras allowed the researchers to capture three-dimensional data and analyze the movement of the insects' wings and bodies in minute detail. That led to a key discovery.

Earlier published research pointed out that an insect's delicate wings possess very little mass compared to the bug's body. As a result, those scholars concluded that changes in spatial distribution of mass associated with wing-flapping did not need to be considered in analyzing an insect's flight maneuverability and stability. "We found out that this commonly accepted assumption was not valid, at least for insects such as butterflies," Lin said. "We learned that changes in moment of inertia, which is a property associated with mass distribution, plays an important role in insect flight, just as arm and leg motion does for ice skaters and divers."

He said this discovery should be considered by MAV designers and may be useful to biologists who study insect flight dynamics.

Lin's newest project involves even smaller bugs. With support from a Johns Hopkins Provost's Undergraduate Research Award, he has begun aiming his video cameras at fruit flies, hoping to solve the mystery of how these insects manage to land upside down on perches.

The insect flight dynamics research was funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the National Science Foundation.

Johns Hopkins University


Related Butterflies Current Events and Butterflies News Articles


Spring comes sooner to urban heat islands, with potential consequences for wildlife
With spring now fully sprung, a new study by University of Wisconsin-Madison researchers shows that buds burst earlier in dense urban areas than in their suburban and rural surroundings. This may be music to urban gardeners' ears, but that tune could be alarming to some native and migratory birds and bugs.

Study of fungi-insect relationships may lead to new evolutionary discoveries
Zombie ants are only one of the fungi-insect relationships studied by a team of Penn State biologists in a newly compiled database of insect fungi interactions.

Evaluating animal threats and human intentions uses common brain network
Assessing whether a fluffy bunny or a giant spider poses a threat to our safety happens automatically.

Nanopillars on drone fly larvae allow them to avoid bacterial contamination
The immature stage of the drone fly (Eristalis tenax) is known as a "rat-tailed maggot" because it resembles a hairless baby rodent with a "tail" that is actually used as a breathing tube.

Eastern Monarch butterflies at risk of extinction unless numbers increase
Long-term declines in the overwintering Eastern population of North American monarch butterflies are significantly increasing their likelihood of becoming extinct over the next two decades, according to Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and U.S. Geological Survey research published today.

Single brain cells reveal genes controlling formation, development
In one of the first studies to 'read' the genetic activity inside individual brain cells, University of Wisconsin-Madison neuroscientist Xinyu Zhao has identified the genetic machinery that causes maturation in a young nerve cell.

Is Alaska's first new butterfly species in decades an ancient hybrid?
Some might say it takes a rare breed to survive the Alaska wilderness. The discovery of a possible new species of hybrid butterfly from the state's interior is proving that theory correct.

Smithsonian scientists discover butterfly-like fossil insect in the deep Mesozoic
Large butterfly-like insects known as Kalligrammatid lacewings, which fluttered through Eurasian fern- and cycad-filled woodland during the Mesozoic Era, have been extinct for more than 120 million years.

Small but deadly: The chemical warfare of sea slugs
Brightly coloured sea slugs are slurping deadly chemicals and stockpiling the most toxic compounds for use on their enemies.

New study reveals what's behind a tarantula's blue hue
Scientists recently discovered that tiny, multilayer nanostructures inside a tarantula's hair are responsible for its vibrant color. The science behind how these hair-raising spiders developed their blue hue may lead to new ways to improve computer or TV screens using biomimicry.
More Butterflies Current Events and Butterflies News Articles

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector Trilogy)

The Butterfly Garden (The Collector Trilogy)
by Dot Hutchison (Author)


Near an isolated mansion lies a beautiful garden.In this garden grow luscious flowers, shady trees…and a collection of precious “butterflies”—young women who have been kidnapped and intricately tattooed to resemble their namesakes. Overseeing it all is the Gardener, a brutal, twisted man obsessed with capturing and preserving his lovely specimens.When the garden is discovered, a survivor is brought in for questioning. FBI agents Victor Hanoverian and Brandon Eddison are tasked with piecing together one of the most stomach-churning cases of their careers. But the girl, known only as Maya, proves to be a puzzle herself.As her story twists and turns, slowly shedding light on life in the Butterfly Garden, Maya reveals old grudges, new saviors, and horrific tales of a man who’d go to...

Butterfly Island

Butterfly Island
by Corina Bomann (Author), Alison Layland (Translator)


From the bestselling author of The Moonlit Garden comes the sweeping, romantic tale of one woman’s quest across two continents and one hundred years of history to unearth her family’s deepest secret.Diana Wagenbach is the sole survivor in a withering family tree fraught with secrets. When the first in a trail of clues is handed down to Diana by her great-aunt on her deathbed, along with a plea to assuage their family’s guilt by revealing all, Diana obliges. She follows the clues—a picture here, a letter there, a pressed frangipani flower in a book—that carry her away from her philandering husband in Berlin to a charming manor in England and all the way to a tea plantation in Sri Lanka.Diana unravels the dramatic tale of her great-great-grandmother, Grace Tremayne, with the aid...

National Geographic Readers: Caterpillar to Butterfly

National Geographic Readers: Caterpillar to Butterfly
by Laura Marsh (Author)


Butterflies are all around us. It's hard to believe these majestic insects with impressive wingspans and beautifully colored and patterned wings were once creepy crawly caterpillars. How in the world does this transformation happen? This Level 1 Reader gives kids an up-close look at exactly how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly. With bonus information including different types of butterflies and poisonous caterpillars, this reader is one of a kind.

This high-interest, educationally vetted series of beginning readers features the magnificent images of National Geographic, accompanied by texts written by experienced, skilled children's book authors.

The inside back cover of the paperback edition is an interactive feature based upon the book. Level 1 books reinforce the content...

In the Time of the Butterflies

In the Time of the Butterflies
by Julia Alvarez (Author)


It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas―“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters―Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé―speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under...

A Butterfly Is Patient

A Butterfly Is Patient
by Dianna Hutts Aston (Author), Sylvia Long (Illustrator)


The creators of the award-winning An Egg Is Quiet and A Seed Is Sleepy have teamed up again to create this gorgeous and informative introduction to the world of butterflies. From iridescent blue swallowtails and brilliant orange monarchs to the worlds tiniest butterfly (Western Pygmy Blue) and the largest (Queen Alexandra's Birdwing), an incredible variety of butterflies are celebrated here in all of their beauty and wonder. Perfect for a child's bedroom bookshelf or for a classroom reading circle!

The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters

The Butterfly Effect: How Your Life Matters
by Andy Andrews (Author)


The decisions you make and the way you treat others have more impact than you may ever realize. Speaker and New York Times best-selling author Andy Andrews shares a compelling and powerful story about a decision one man made over a hundred years ago, and the ripple effect it's had on us individually, and nationwide, today. It's a story that will inspire courage and wisdom in the decisions we make, as well as affect the way we treat others through our lifetime. Andrews speaks over 100 times a year, and The Butterfly Effect is his #1 most requested story.  Also included with the purchase of the book is a link to view a 9-minute message of Andrews telling The Butterfly Effect story to a live audience.


Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America (Kaufman Field Guides)

Kaufman Field Guide to Butterflies of North America (Kaufman Field Guides)
by Jim P. Brock (Author), Kenn Kaufman (Author), Kenn Kaufman (Editor)


The most user-friendly butterfly guide ever published, still handy and compact.

- Includes color plates of Mexican-border rarities   
- More than 2,300 images of butterflies in natural poses   
- Pictorial table of contents   
- Convenient one-page index   
- Range maps on text pages
 

The Butterfly

The Butterfly
by Patricia Polacco (Author)


Ever since the Nazis marched into Monique?s small French village, terrorizing it, nothing surprises her, until the night Monique encounters ?the little ghost? sitting at the end of her bed. She turns out to be a girl named Sevrine, who has been hiding from the Nazis in Monique?s basement. Playing after dark, the two become friends, until, in a terrifying moment, they are discovered, sending both of their families into a nighttime flight.

Butterfly in Amber (Spotless)

Butterfly in Amber (Spotless)
by Camilla Monk (Author)


He's waiting for you... Under a blanket of snow, surrounded by dark woods and a frozen sea, lies an ogre's castle. There lives a little princess, trapped in the maze of her own mind. On a battlefield where the past meets the present stand a fairy godmother and a pirate, an old ice cream man and a knight in shining clean armor... The clock is ticking fast, and to pierce the ogre's secrets and defeat him, Island Chaptal will have to fight to remember...and stay alive. Can the Lions and the Roomba cats be stopped before it's too late?

Explore My World Butterflies

Explore My World Butterflies
by Marfe Ferguson Delano (Author)


The engaging Explore My World picture books invite kids to take their first big steps toward understanding the world around them and are just the thing for parents and kids to curl up with and read aloud. In Explore My World Butterflies, curious kids ages 3 to 7 will be excited to learn about the magical world of butterflies: their beauty, their importance to plant life, and their incredible metamorphosis and migration.

© 2017 BrightSurf.com