World's Smallest Camera Plane Shows Off in Public
It has a 4-inch wingspan and weighs just over 3 grams. It looks like a dragonfly, and its flapping wings make it fly just like one. But it's a man-made aircraft which carries a tiny camera that transmits live video of what it sees — and it is intended to be merely the forerunner of much smaller aerial drones to come.
The DelFly Micro, which its developers say is the world's smallest camera-equipped aircraft, made its public debut today in a sports center at Delft in the Netherlands. The four-man research team from the Delft University of Technology that built the DelfFly Micro presented it to a media audience, conducting the first public demonstration flight of the tiny vehicle.
Team member Bart Remes said he and his colleagues Christophe De Wagter, Guido de Croon and Rick Ruijsink first flew the DelFly Micro on May 5. It represents the third generation of DelFly micro air vehicles (MAVs) developed by the team, coming after the much larger DelFly I that first flew in 2005 and the second-generation DelFly II that flew for the first time in 2006.
The team's primary goal in developing the DelFly family of MAVs has been to investigate the aerodynamics of ornithopters — aircraft that fly by flapping their wings like a bird or insect. The airflows round the thin PET films that make up the MAVs' wings "are so difficult (to model), no computer can simulate them," said Remes. "We can’t do it with calculations, so we can only do measurements."
In the course of its research the team measured the movements of smoke particles over the wings of the 11-inch-span, 16-gram DelFly II, and incorporated force sensors into its wings to determine how much lift the wings generated at different flapping frequencies.