Research

Ionolet the size of a coin flies without wings, propellers and moving parts

Flying insect-sized robots usuallydesigned to mimic biological insects, because biological insects are considered to be masters of effective small flight. These flying micro-cameras with a flapping wing (FMAV) are approaching the size of real insects, and the demonstration of the work of some robots in the size of bees is really surprising: they can fly, float and even dive into the water. However, creating a tiny robot with flapping wings, which can move in all degrees of freedom necessary for control, is quite difficult, requires complex mechanical gears and sophisticated software.

It is not difficult to guess why biomimeticthe approach is preferable: insects had several hundred million years to work through all the movements, and other ways by which we figured out how to make robots fly independently (namely, propeller-based systems) do not scale well to small sizes. But there is another way to fly, and unlike wings or aerodynamic surfaces, animals did not manage to guess this: electro-hydrodynamic thrust, which does not require moving parts, only electricity.

Small ionolet

Electrohydrodynamic (EHD) engines thatsometimes called ion engines, use a high-strength electric field to create a plasma of ionized air. Ions (mostly positively charged nitrogen molecules) are attracted to a negatively charged lattice and along the way they get into neutral air molecules, giving them an impulse from which ionic craving is born.

The idea, in fact, is not particularly new: A common phenomenon has been known for several hundred years, and for some time people thought that it could be used in manned aircraft. However, to raise a person, you will need an incredibly large structure of emitters and collector arrays.

In 2003, the Orville mouse flew on a huge ion plane, but in addition to the pretty pictures, we received nothing. The technology has not become practical.

Before you is the ion ship, which is currentlybeing developed at the University of California at Berkeley. It is tiny - only 2 to 2 centimeters, it weighs 30 mg and another 37 mg is a hydrostabilizer (although it delivers energy through the wire). On a small scale, the absence of moving parts becomes a major advantage, because there is no need to worry about how to scale mechanical elements, such as transmissions, below the point when they stop working. Taking into account the load of the hydrostabilizer, the ionocraft could take off and float at a 2000 volt input signal with a voltage slightly below 0.35 mA.

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Magic, right? No moving parts, complete silence and a flying machine. Larger engines on the EHD may not be practical, but downscaling essentially makes them better, since electrostatic forces do not depend on scale. This means that small engines have a better thrust to weight ratio, as well as lower voltage requirements. And on a small scale, the advantage of an ionocraft over a FMAV of similar dimensions is that you can develop a controller with a quadro as a starting point, since an ionocraft uses four thrusters in a similar configuration Because it does not have rotating propellers, it cannot take advantage of the angular momentum to rotate , however, uses an interesting yaw pattern, as long as it has room for maneuver.

As with other flying micro-devices,A big issue will be the ability to work autonomously with a payload. At the moment, Ionocraft carries the payload more than its weight, but it only needs seven wires for power, data and grounding. Berkeley scientists believe autonomy is achievable.

The good news is that there is a lot of room for improvement. What do you think the future of ion transport? Tell us in our chat in Telegram.

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