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Watch This Ultralight, 3-D-Printed Ornithopter Flap Around Like A Dragonfly

Quadcopters? Please, those are so 2012. This ultralight ornithopter uses four flapping wings to get off the ground. The best part? Most of it can be fabricated using consumer 3-D printers.

Watch This Ultralight, 3-D-Printed Ornithopter Flap Around Like A Dragonfly

We’ve all heard of consumer drones that use rotors to carry cameras (or pizza) or anything else you can imagine, but this Japanese company ditched whirlybird propellers for the simplest of flight mechanics: flapping wings. The best part? Most of it can be churned out of a 3-D printer.

Ditching the popular quadcopter consumer drone format, in 2009 Osaka-based Flapping Wing Production Studio designed a drone called the Meganeuropsis, after the meganeura, a prehistoric dragonfly. Their newest model, announced last week, is 10% larger, and while it’s unlikely that the membrane-thin wings can be printed, most of the gears and parts were printed out of a desktop Makerbot Replicator 2.0 at FabLab Kitakagaya, a citizen maker lab in Osaka. The new model clocks in at a staggeringly light 8.7g even with its 50mAhLi-po battery, far lighter than the market-standard Parrot 2.0 AR drone’s baseline 380g.

It’s uncertain how durable the new ornithopter drone is (although it crashes enough in the above video to indicate that it can withstand moderate abuse), but its winged design prevents the "dead drop" that quadcopters suffer when safety subroutines or battery failures occur. Even with styrofoam and plastic parts, most quadcopters place breakable gears on the outward arms, which are, from personal experience, often the first points of contact as a powerless quadcopter falls back to Earth. It’s also unclear how much weight the ornithopter can bear (probably not heavy enough to strap on a GoPro ), but an outside demonstration uploaded a week ago has three ornithopters strapped together in a configuration called the Flying Crawler (and here’s another configuration of four tied together, in case you just can’t give up the word "quad").

The ornithopter is powered by a 6mm motor in the front that flaps the wings and a 4mm motor that drives its single torque-countering tail rotor, which stabilizes rotation much like a helicopter. A video uploaded back in June showed off the lift and propelling basics of the 3-D printed prototype, but the addition of a tail rotor seems to have provided horizontal turning capability.

As if the Flapping Wing Production Studio wasn’t cool enough already, their blog lists several public workshops where they showed off the ornithopter, including one that they turned into a teaching seminar for kids.

[Image: Flickr user Bùi Linh Ngân]