Bird? Plane? Micro Air Vehicle Technology Comes To Thinktank

By David Prudames | 13 October 2003
Shows a small metallic flying machine that resembles a fly.

Photo: it's not a bird and it's not a plane. It's a Micro Air Vehicle, a unique, tiny flying machine. Courtesy of Thinktank.

It’s a machine small enough to fit in the palm of your hand that can fly, hover and navigate itself, but it’s not something dreamt up by H G Wells or even a gadget from the Matrix.

Far from being the product of a sci-fi imagination, the Micro Air Vehicle has been developed by scientists at Cranfield University and is on its way to a museum in Birmingham.

From October 25 visitors to the city’s museum of science and discovery, Thinktank, will be able to examine a prototype Micro Air Vehicle up close in a display in the venue's Futures Gallery.

Professor Clifford Friend, one of the scientists that developed the tiny flying machine, explained how such a device could be mounted with a camera and used by future generations.

"Micro Air Vehicles have been developed for the defence industry to provide surveillance on the battlefield, which is why we’ve called the exhibit the ‘I Spy With My Little Fly’, but they could have many other uses," he said.

"They could aid the emergency services, assist industrial inspection in dangerous environments and, on a slightly different note, could even be applied to the movie industry providing some fantastic shots!"

Shows a magnified image of a strand of hair, upon which the Thinktank logo is printed.

Photo: just to show how cutting edge they are, they've gone a got their logo printed on a humar hair using Nanotechnology! Courtesy of Thinktank.

The machine is being developed to fly on its own incorporating sensors and a small ‘brain’ so that it will know where it is, where it’s going and how to get there. It will also fly using the same technique as an insect, a not insignificant achievement.

"Insect flight is very complex and highly efficient," added Prof Friend. "The wings both oscillate and rotate, which gives a high level control for lift and manoeuvring, meaning the MAV has very high efficiency even at low flying speeds."

To give visitors some idea of what the machine will be capable of, staff at Thinktank have created an interactive 3D navigation game. You can try your hand at flying a computer generated MAV around a smoke-filled building in search of trapped people.

Joining the MAV on display at the museum for the next two years will be other examples of technology of the future.

You’ll be able to meet eMo, the emotional robot developed by Sheffield University Professor and Robot Wars judge Noel Sharkey. Or take a look at micromachines, built using Nanotechnology out of parts 10 times smaller than the width of a human hair!

The display has been made possible with the help of the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, the Government’s leading funding agency for research and training in engineering and the sciences.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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