Micromechanical Flying Insect (MFI)

Micromechanical Flying Insect (MFI) Project

The goal of the micromechanical flying insect (MFI) project is to develop a 25 mm (wingtip-to-wingtip) device capable of sustained autonomous flight. The MFI is designed based on biomimetic principles to capture some of the exceptional flight performance achieved by true flies. The high performance of true flies is based on large forces generated by non-steady state aerodynamics, a high power-to-weight ratio motor system, and a high-speed control system with tightly integrated visual and inertial sensors. Our design analysis shows us that piezoelectric actuators and flexible thorax structures can provide the needed power density and wing stroke, and that adequate power can be supplied by lithium batteries charged by solar cells.

The MFI project started in May 1998. In the first 3 years of this MURI grant, research concentrated on understanding fly flight aerodynamics and on analysis, design and fabrication of MFI actuators, thorax and wings. In August 2001, our MFI prototype (with 1 wing) showed thrust forces on a test stand. In September 2002, we switched our fabrication from folded stainless steel to carbon fiber. In March 2003 we demonstrated 500 microNewtons of lift from a single wing on a test stand. Since March 2003, we have been working on reducing weight, increasing actuator power density, increasing air frame strength, and improving wing control.

Overview of MFI project from UCB Public Affairs office.

Currently work on MFI flight control and sensors is sponsored by NSF ``Robotic Insect Flight Stabilization Using Biomimetic Sensors'', Jan 2005-. NSF Disclaimer: ``This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. IIS-IIS-0412541. Any opinions, findings and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation (NSF).''


Formerly sponsored by ONR MURI Biomimetic Robotics and DARPA Controlled Biological Systems Program 1998-2003.



Two wing carbon fiber MFI thorax with actuators (March 2003).

2 wing carbon fiber air frame and thorax with actuators (Dec. 2003).
Simulation of MFI orientation recovery (1.5 MB .avi).
Artist's drawing of future autonomous MFI, as of 2/04 (R.J. Wood/UCBerkeley).
Artist's conception of future MFI with optical flow sensors and radio. (Quan Gan, UC Berkeley, March 2004) Old mockup of stainless steel MFI (2/01).
Other MFI artist's conceptions, including earlier historical revisions


MFI component technologies


Bimorph piezoelectric actuator (mass 11 mg) develops 400 W/kg at 250 Hz.
Laser micromachined components for thorax structure.
Carbon fiber reinforced wing has mass less than 0.3 milligrams, and inertia of 10 mg-mm^2.
Wing motion at 150 Hz.