Given their impressive flight capabilities, it’s not surprising to see researchers turning to the world of flying insects for inspiration when developing new kinds of micro UAVs. With their ability to both fly at high speeds and hover, the dragonfly would seem an obvious candidate for biomimicry, but we hadn’t seen any attempts to model a micro UAV on the dragonfly’s four wing design – until now. A multi-disciplinary team from Georgia Tech has developed a robotic four-winged ornithopter called the TechJect Dragonfly that fits in the palm of a hand and combines the flight capabilities of a quadricopter, helicopter and fixed wing aircraft in one.
The TechJect Dragonfly is the culmination of four years of research and development at Georgia Tech, assisted by US$1 million in funding from the U.S. Air Force. TechJect is a spinoff out of Georgia Tech’s Robotics & Intelligent Machines (RIM) Department that was created to bring the Dragonfly and other robotic flyers to market. To that end, the TechJect team has turned to crowdfunding site indiegogo to help get the Dragonfly off the ground.
As well as borrowing its wing design from its biological namesake, the Dragonfly is also similar in size, measuring 15 cm (6 in) long. It weighs around 25 g (0.88 oz) and is powered by a 250 mAh lithium polymer battery that provides hover times of 8-10 minutes and a hybrid (hover/flight) time of 25 to 30 minutes.
Designed with a focus on modular customization, the Dragonfly carries up to 20 onboard sensors to suit a variety of applications, from aerial photography, gaming, research and development, civilian security and military reconnaissance. The modular approach results in the availability of various flight control packages.
The Alpha model, which can be secured with a US$99 pledge (provided the funding goal is met) but is estimated to retail at $250 or more, comes with a MARC-Basic flight computer, solenoidal actuators, and flight accessories including a remote controller, battery and charger.
The Delta model has the same MARC-Basic flight computer and flight accessories, but the solenoidal actuators are replaced with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), which improves performance, particularly in terms of hovering. A spare set of wings is also included. The Delta can be had for a pledge of $179, with the retail price estimated to be around $500.
Aimed at R & D, prototyping and programming applications, the Gamma model sees the flight computer upgraded to the MARC-2 and adds a camera and Wi-Fi, so it can be controlled via a computer, iPhone or Android smartphone.
The CVT found on the Delta also features on the Gamma, and the same flight accessories, along with a spare set of wings are also included. A pledge of $249 will secure the Gamma model, which is expected to retail for $750.
The top line model is the Omega, which is powered by a more powerful MARC-3 flight computer that boasts 20 onboard sensors (including two cameras), and features a CVT and Wi-Fi. The familiar flight accessories and an extra set of wings are also included. The Omega requires a pledge of $399, with an expected price of $1,499 at retail.
All models are offered in blue, green, yellow, orange, red, black, white and silver color options and come with a fully customizable software development kit (SDK) for the creation of custom applications. However, TechJect will offer a number of free apps for iOS and Android devices and PCs. There will also be an online forum where users can share their custom apps and get development help from the TechJect team.
The Dragonfly's modular construction also allows the future upgrade of various components, such as the wings, actuators, and onboard electronics. These will be available through the TechJect website.
TechJect is looking to raise $110,000 via indigogo by the time the calendar ticks over to 2013. If it achieves its goal, TechJect aims to be delivering Dragonflies to pledge-makers from July, 2013.
The TechJect team gives an overview of the Dragonfly in the video below.