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Flapping Microplane

April 3, 2006

To check for threats on the battlefield and to guard against terrorist threats at home, engineers are developing a wide variety of small, agile robots and probes. Science Update reports on a tiny new plane that could join the force.


A plane that flaps its wings. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Bugs and birds flap their wings to fly, but most airplanes don’t. An exception is the Delfly, a foot-long plane developed by engineering students at Delft University in the Netherlands. Team leader Daan Van Ginneken says the flapping wings allow the plane to fly fast or slow, and even to stop and h ver. And thanks to a miniature camera that interacts with computers on the ground, the Delfly can be programmed to recognize almost anything – like safety hazards at a construction site.

DEAN VAN GINNEKEN (Delft University, Netherlands):
Then it just flies around and as soon as it sees something that is predefined it will give a signal to the bay station and say: ‘Well, I found it.’

It could also be a powerful surveillance tool in foreign combat zones or domestic terrorist targets. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.