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University of Tennessee engineering professor looks to whirligig beetle for bio-inspired robots
Date:12/4/2012

Whirligig beetles are named for their whirling movement on top of water, moving rapidly in and taking off into flight.

While many may have found the movements curious, scientists have puzzled over the apparatus behind their energy efficiencyuntil now, thanks to a study performed by a team led by Mingjun Zhang, associate professor of mechanical, aerospace and biomedical engineering, at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville.

"The propulsive efficiency of the species has been claimed in literature to be one of the highest measured for a thrust-generating apparatus within the animal kingdom," Zhang said. "But nobody knew exactly why, so we conducted a quantitative study with experiment support that uncovered this mystery."

Zhang saw the curious beetle as inspiration for developing energy-efficient propulsion mechanisms for swimming vehicles and robots. His team discovered separate leg functions, alternative patterns of leg propulsion, a unique take-off technique and maximizing surface area as key to the beetle's inner workings.

The findings have been published in this month's PLOS Computational Biology.

His team performed a combination of microscopic high-speed imaging, dynamics modeling and simulations to unlock the beetle's secret.

They discovered each of the beetle's three pairs of legs conducts a different function. Their curved swimming trajectories gained energy efficient over linear trajectories by alternating the ways leg propelled. Using high-speed cameras, the researchers observed that the beetles beat their legs in different directions in order to transition from swimming to diving. This provides the force required to alter the angle of the body's tilt and break the surface tension of water. Finally, the swimming legs rely on the extension of "swimming laminae" to increase the surface area and generate larger thrust.

"Nature folds the laminae, or a thin tissue, after the beetle is
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Contact: Whitney Heins
wheins@utk.edu
865-974-5460
University of Tennessee at Knoxville
Source:Eurekalert

Page: 1 2

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