Artificial butterfly for studying insect flight

The beautiful rubber band-powered artificial butterfly is helping researchers understand the flight of swallowtails. Hiroto Tanaka of Harvard University and Isao Shimoyama of the University of Tokyo built the balsa-wood machine, which boasts thin polymer film wings with "veins" made with a silicon-etching technique. The artificial butterfly enables them to control the flight mechanisms in ways they couldn't do with live butterflies. From Science News:

Fake Flier

"We can't ask insects, like 'Hey, please just flap your wings at 10 hertz,'" Tanaka says…

To mimic the way the butterflies might use their front and rear wings together, the researchers created one big wing for each side of the body…

With high-speed cameras, the researchers got enough images of the model's few seconds of flight for motion analysis. They conclude that by simply flapping its wings straight up and down, the machine recreated the bobbing flight of real butterflies. And by comparing fully veined with veinless wings, the researchers found that veins stiffened the wings and helped them achieve greater lift. The bobbing motion of the body also increased lift to help keep the flier aloft.

"Artificial butterfly mixes high, low tech"