Georgia Tech awarded patent for dragonfly-inspired MAV

Years after initially filing, Georgia Tech Research Corp was awarded a patent for its dragonfly-inspired micro aerial vehicle. "The Government has certain rights in the invention."

dragonfly
Credit: Ferran Pestaña

Well it’s springtime and if you are the type to embrace nature and hang out near freshwater, then you may see dragonflies. The next time you see one, consider that its robotic counterpart has finally been granted a patent.

Wait, haven’t you seen dragonfly-like MAVs for years now? Probably. Georgia Tech Research Corporation filed the patent in 2012. At any rate, the patent says that in order for DARPA to consider an aerial vehicle as a MAV, it must be “smaller than 6 inches in any direction or must not have a gross takeoff weight greater than 100 grams” (about .22 pounds or roughly the same weight as 100 Skittles.)

Georgia Tech MAVs patent Georgia Tech Research Corporation

“MAVs can fly in enclosed or partially enclosed areas, such as in buildings and alleyways. MAVs can also fly through and around obstacles that are too large or too close together to be avoided by conventional aerial vehicles. For at least these reasons, MAVs can perform tasks that other, larger aerial vehicles cannot.” The patent also notes that “MAVs can carry cameras and other payloads. Unlike conventional aerial vehicles, however, an MAV's small size and maneuverability can make it difficult to detect. For this reason, MAVs are particularly useful to the military, as they can carry out various military operations without being detected.”

Georgia Tech MAV patent figures Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Georgia Tech’s patented MAV was “inspired by, and/or modeled after, a dragonfly” and its types of flight include flapping, hovering, gliding. The patent says that while “fixed-wing MAVs can't hover or fly backwards,” rotary-wing MAVs "can hover, fly at slow-speeds, and move in any direction." It’s not actually just one type of MAV either as the patent (pdf) showed images of 2-wing, 4-wing and “N-wing” versions.

Georgia Tech MAV patent Georgia Tech Research Corporation

Unless you are being observant, you might miss a “tiny, easily overlooked” dragonfly. Did you know some dragonflies can fly over 30 mph? That is according to University of Bristol Professor Stuart Burgess. Around the same time in 2012, Burgess wrote about the university’s dragonfly-inspired MAV which weighed less than an ounce and its nuts were “smaller than a pinhead.” Its six-inch wings could flap “10 beats per second,” but since it was powered by a mobile phone battery, it could only flap for 5 minutes.

Two-wing ornithopters are even an older idea than MAVs; below is Delft University of Technology MAVLab’s DelFly Micro, “the smallest flying ornithopter carrying a camera in the world!” It was first developed in 2008 and made it into the Guinness book of records in 2009 for being the “smallest airplane in the world equipped with a camera.”

DelFly Micro TU Delft MAVLab

Here’s a look at Japan’s version from around the same time period.

One of the original Georgia Tech inventors, Jayant Ratti, has since moved on to become president of TechJect which started an Indiegogo project back in 2012 for its Robot Dragonfly; it was based on years of research and $1 million in military (Air Force) funding. TechJect describes itself as “the developer of the world's newest and smallest flight computers for sensing, photography, videography, monitoring, navigation and other use cases in robotics.”

What Georgia Tech Research Corporation will do now that its MAV patent was granted is unknown. Perhaps it will do nothing as the dragonfly-inspired MAV is not a new notion, or perhaps you should start paying a bit more attention to dragonflies that are flitting around you? ;-p

dragonfly eyes timitalia

The MAVs might be used during search and rescue type situations, but the patent also mentions the military a few times. “The invention was made with Government support under contract number FA9550-10-C-0036, awarded by the U.S. Air Force. The Government has certain rights in the invention.”

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