Fruit fly inspires new model of smaller, quicker, more efficient military drone

Insect-inspired drones developed by Purdue engineers give Uri's eagle drone competition.


The recent Bollywood film Uri gave us a glimpse of the future of drones and aerial surveillance. With drones that look like real birds, scientists are now also developing drones that look and fly like insects.

In 2018, over $700 million was invested in the drone industry for a variety of reasons: increased demand by the military, government and even filmmaker use them for entertainment purposes. The technology needs to be smaller, faster and better quality to satisfy the needs of the times. Drones are used in all aspects of the spectrum, for disaster relief to surveillance in military to entertainment and recreations.

Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones are highly capable of completing tasks they are programmed to on a clear, sunny day. However, when winds hit, they become unreliable, and unable to withstand the gusty winds due to their rigid structure and fixed arms, a new study published in the ASME Journal of Dynamic Systems, Measurement and Control. This also means that their capacity to carry payloads is greatly reduced.

Fruit fly inspires new model of smaller, quicker, more efficient military drone

The insect-inspired drone is super cool. It could also do with a touch-up. Image credit: Purdue University

In 2017, scientists observed fruit flies with high-speed cameras to understand how they can replicate their capability to keep afloat after it loses a wing. They wanted to reproduce this in drones so that it did not crash if it lost a part. While these drones are now modeled as an insect, they have not mentioned these specifics.

Insect drone models (like the one pictured above), can handle larger payloads while also being more energy-efficient. Add to this the fact that they can fly in extreme wind conditions, they're far less challenged that UAVs and drones available today.

Fruit flies were the unlikely inspiration for Purdue University's drones

"Our drone design was inspired by the wings and flight patterns of insects," Xiumin Diao, one of the drone's lead engineers from Purdue University said in a statement. The adaptable wings can fold their arms and make in-flight adjustments, making them more stable and doing something that's not easy to otherwise do: change their center-of-gravity mid-flight. The drone can also carry a larger payload because its movable arms can liberate part of the rotor thrust so that the weight of the overall device is balanced.

These advanced drones are better-suited to help in tasks like search-and-rescue missions, flying through tight spaces and in low-vision areas.

Looks like we'll be swatting more than just fruit flies and mosquitoes in the future.