Single-wing Flight Based On Maple Seed Aerodynamics


The Samara Micro-Air-Vehicle is a product of over three years of work at the University of Maryland’s Aerospace Engineering Autonomous Vehicle Laboratory. The Samara is an applicant in the DARPA nano air vehicle program. Unlike the ornithopter we saw in July, this vehicle uses only one wing for flight. A small propeller on a rod mounted perpendicular to the wing provides rotation. The pitch of the wing is changed to climb, descend, or hover.

You can see a video of the flight tests after the break. The sound the Samara makes reminds us of classic alien invasion movies and the use of Verdi’s Requiem for the background music during flight tests (2:43) seems quite fitting. At about 5:45 there is some on board video footage that is just a blur of the room spinning by. This would be much more useful if a few frames per second were snapped at exactly the same point in the vehicles rotation.


[Thanks Waggy]

77 thoughts on “Single-wing Flight Based On Maple Seed Aerodynamics

  1. Holy crap. If he could fit a small pod in the center of rotation and have it maintain its direction there would be SO many potential applications for this. A camera pointing downward would be a good one. It looks like the part cost would be really low, too.

  2. A couple of questions:

    Is it in some way more efficient or crash resistant than a helicopter?

    Can the platform be stable enough to transport items that can’t or shouldn’t themselves be spun at the rate of rotation?

    What was with the onboard vomit cam? A stable camera, I could see that. A spinning view showing only the fixed wing as it rotates too fast for anything else — not so good for anything but perhaps inducing epilepsy.

  3. @Zencyde
    wile i waswatching the video i had similar thoughts exacpt mine were along the lines of
    once they can it more stable make a scaled up version add a pod to the center have it matain direction by spinning in teh opposite direction

    ya i can see people building personal aircraft after this design :)

  4. That’s an amazingly elegant design. Every movement of the craft, from altitude control to direction and speed of travel, is performed ENTIRELY by changing the angle of attack of a single wing with the correct timing.
    No need to an antispun camera pod either, you could fit a linescan camera and use the high rotation rate to form an image.

    The really great thing is, it should be easy and cheap to build your own. You only need one motor with a really course speed control, a single servo, some foam, and a microcontroller (cue ArduinoRAGE). Add an accelerometer and gyro module to measure spin rate and current craft angle, and the control system is a simple loop of code polled several times per rotation.

    “You know… that joke got old after the first time you said it, and now it appears in every single article…. ”
    Joke? The video is embedded after the page break, what’s supposed to be funny? It’s the standard way to refer to something in a main article linked from a summary.

  5. @monkeyslayer56
    I’m considering attempting to construct something like this. I bet you could implement a gyroscope in the center pod to provide an easy method of changing the direction of force. Two gyroscopes, rather at 90 degrees. And that camera wouldn’t turn for shit. :) I’m sure there are all sorts of things you could do to improve a design as simplistic as this. I’m astonished at how brilliantly simple the whole craft is.

  6. If you could get a camera with a fast enough shutter, you wouldn’t need to keep it stable. It could continuously snap pictures as it spins, then stitch them together for a full 360 degree experience.

  7. RE: Spinning platform, as it relates to cameras and payload…..

    The problem with the payload hub rotating along with the wing, is that it won’t scale well at all. The oscillation as the mass increases would begin to get destructive very quickly I think.

    At any kind of scale beyond the micro size shown here, you’d have to have the pod suspended on an access with at least free rotation if not counter rotation unless you could exactly balance every load.

    It’s a fantastic piece of work, which is why I asked about its efficiency compared to traditional balanced rotor craft. If there is greater efficiency here, perhaps two counter rotating rotors with payload between would be effective — like the heavy lift helicopters that have been in use for decades.

  8. There is a break if you are reading from the home page of hackaday.

    Awesome craft. You could get around the camera with software, most likely a higher end camera and provide a panoramic view of where you are. I think being able to see all around you would be useful in a UAV.

  9. Admiration and respect to the inventors for this beautifully elegant and simple interpretation of nature, transformed into a highly maneuverable and inspiring platform for future flight!
    (: My hat goes off to you

  10. Do people really not understand breaks in a news blog post?

    I love this concept, I’ve stared off at hundreds of the little bastards(maple seeds) falling and wondered if something like this could be done.

    I guess for them to get lateral movement, they must have some sense of direction when spinning around – the thing looks like it spins well fast enough that you could have the camera only grab images at a precise moment to give a stabilized image – FPS would be directly proportional to RPM of the craft. In theory it works, but I’m sure there’s issues with the exposure rate and such.

  11. The page linked to in turn linked to and (correct me if I’m wrong) the side panel appears to indicate that the designers are willing to sell these things via special request by email. (Just let’n you know because I just know there is someone out there pining to buy this thing)

  12. Dan,

    I’m pretty sure that “after the break” is intended to mean the same thing as “below the fold” (which actually makes less sense, but somehow is more common to hear because of the legacy of newspapers). I don’t think it’s intended to be a joke.

    It’s a signal to regular readers who might not be interested in other people’s comments that there’s more to the story that isn’t on the front page.

    On topic: I think this is a pretty amazing idea. I am pretty sure I wouldn’t like to ride in such a thing if it were made to carry passengers, but for research and entertainment purposes it’s fantastic.

  13. If the camera were pointed down and the rate of rotation were known, I bet you could reduce blurring in software. Then, you would have a pretty sweet little overhead camera.

    I second the comments about the benefits of this over helicopters or other MAVs. This is far simpler, uses fewer parts, and therefore less prone to catastrophic failure. If your engine dies, the thing just floats down like the seeds that inspired its design.

  14. “How is this any different/better than a helicopter?”

    Take this and a helicopter up to the same altitude, cut power. This device will auto-rotate and slow its descent automatically, the helicopter won’t.

  15. “Take this and a helicopter up to the same altitude, cut power. This device will auto-rotate and slow its descent automatically, the helicopter won’t.”
    Uh, helicopters autorotate too, you know.

  16. one small step for man..
    i see a ufo in the making.
    it just cant travel in the vaccum of space without some other means of propulsion.
    i cant put it into words but think something like how smooth a hard drive motor spins with its platters, and then turn the mounted platters into stationary rings to allow airflow, and the hard drive motor is the cockpit that doesnt spin you like a tilt a whirl, but the blades spin around it. vertical lifting/landing and take-off..
    SCALE IT UP! lol if you don’t feel suicidal i will be the test pilot!

  17. Cool as a concept. Seriously. But is it one of those “we built it because we could” things? What aviation problem does it solve or improve? Does it use less energy/fuel to stay aloft? Is it super silent or stealthy?

  18. @Buzzkill
    How bout that linescanner camera idea? give it a 180 degree line vertical line scanner and you’ve got an instant 360 degree spherical view from the platform. It wouldn’t even need any form of stabilization as now you’re capturing everything around the craft. Granted, I can see framerates being not quite 30fps (how fast does this thing spin anyway?) but its definitely fast enough for say… military recon of dangerous location? A 360 degree view over a wall or hill is pretty damn impressive.

  19. @Buzzkill,

    What problem does it solve? The one the customer paid for. Primarily it was built because DARPA is funding a nano-scale flight platform, for whatever reason.

    Because it’s DARPA, we can make a guess or two. Maybe they want a small reconnaissance platform that has the same radar profile as a bird. Maybe they have to be light and small enough for a single recon soldier to carry several. Maybe they have to land uncontrolled, but quietly. Maybe they have to be silent at 50 meters or less.

    Since DARPA is a research organization, maybe they didn’t have an exact original plan, but a few ideas of what a nano-scale flier would be capable of. And after they see what gets built, they adapt their plans to use its unique features.

    After seeing this video, I’m guessing they’ll formulate a usage scenario specific to the device. I imagine something like this:
    1. Fly them at a silent running altitude over a specific target (maybe 200 meters.)
    2. Cut power and allow them to drop silently into an enemy camp.
    3. Allow them to spin and photograph all the way down.
    4. Establish the number and location of hostiles and civilians.
    5. Send in the Predators or the Rangers or the Seals or the mortar shells.

  20. I’ve got an excellent book on monocopters somewhere around here. It’s an excellently stable platform for a small payload, and as jaded pointed out, great for dropping silently into an area for whatever reason. The few I have played around with used model rocket engines to launch skywards, and deployed the wing once at peak altitude. Pretty fun to try and track down, and a few lightweight sensors or a small camera would be pretty cool.

  21. @EdZ – line scan camera

    This my friend is a BRILLIANT idea! not only the picture is stable, but you get 360′ view for free.
    I just looked how fast are those things and fastest scanners I could find do ~50 A4 pages per minute, thats 3508 pixels x50 /60 = 3000 scans per second = 40 pixels at 60rpm. That is too slow :(

    Wonder what is the
    -average speed of rotation
    -minimal speed below which you crash (like stall in planes)

    Where is the center of mass on those things? says:
    >”Phantom’s single rotor blade has a center of
    >rotation outside of the UAVs’ physical fuselage”

    but on the video you can see that rotation is centered around wing mount point, same with Samara Micro-Air – it also centers around wing mount point, and the battery (or whatever that is) on the opposite side of the rotor is there only to balance the thing.

    Beauty of this design is obvious and shown at the end of teh video – it crashes and even manages to damage attack edge of the wing, dude just flips it over and it flies again = ultra rugged design.

  22. ok found “SU-LDH Digital Line Scan Camera”
    46,000 lines per second at 1024 pixels per line, that works out to a decent 780 pixels at 60rpm, or >2 cycles per degree. Thats about the same as a rat :). You could then slow down rotation if you wanted to take a better look at something. The idea is sound.

  23. ok got the rotation speed from one of the TV News interviews with Samara Micro-Air guy, its 10 RPM. Now that is decent, easy to control and you can use normal camera modules ($5 Sony cameraphone modules do 120 fps at 1296H x 243V). That works out to 8 cycles per degree. ~3000 pixels panorama.

    What got me all giggly was how he stated with pride “I applied for patents”. also has in bold letters how they hold several Patents .. on nature. Not to mention the insistence on “defense” aspects (read dropping bombs and killing people). Americans are funny (in a look at me Im retarded way).

    BTW on Samara webpage: “Our company’s mission is to pioneer the Samara paradigm”. So not only did he sound retarded boasting “defense” aspects, he also writes retarded, does he have MBA or something?

  24. Larz in this vid yes, but in the long run you will want a camera that can see the surroundings.

    btw looks like Subscribe is broken, at least for me :( I stopped getting notifications and instead get weird “confirm that you really really want to subscribe”, but confirming doesnt work :(

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