Harvesting Power From Flying Insects

The first successful mechanical energy scavenging from flying insects uses piezoelectric devices in little 'back-packs'.

(Power output from energy harvesting [pdf])

The device was created and described by scientists from the University of Michigan and Western Michigan University.

This paper reports the first effort to generate power from a live insect (Cotinis nitida - Green June Beetle) during its tethered flight, by utilizing piezoelectric devices in the d31 bending mode to convert mechanical vibrations of a beetle into electrical output. We measured available deflection, force and power output from oscillatory movements at different locations on a beetle with an unmounted piezoelectric beam and showed that up to ~115 micro Watts power generation is possible. Two initial generator prototypes were fabricated, mounted on a beetle, and harvested 11.5 micro Watts and 7.5 micro Watts in device volumes of 11.0 mm3 and 5.6 mm3 respectively, from 85 Hz-100 Hz wing strokes.

(Final prototype design for insect energy harvesting [pdf])

This work has real applications in the world of HI-MEMS (Hybrid Insect Micro-Electro-Mechanical Systems), which create cyborg beetles that can be remote-controlled. DARPA plans to use these insect/device hybrids as remote surveillance and sensing MAVs. The sensors and transponders need power, and harvesting power from the insect's flight is an ideal way to obtain energy, rather than using batteries.

DARPA HI-MEMS program director Amit Lal credits science fiction writer Thomas Easton with the idea for the HI-MEMS cyborg insect program, which recently reported success in embedding control devices in the pupal stage. Lal read Easton's 1990 novel Sparrowhawk, in which animals enlarged by genetic engineering were outfitted with implanted control systems.

Dr. Easton, a professor of science at Thomas College, sees a number of applications for HI-MEMS insects.

Moths are extraordinarily sensitive to sex attractants, so instead of giving bank robbers money treated with dye, they could use sex attractants instead. Then, a moth-based HI-MEMS could find the robber by following the scent."

"[Also,] with genetic engineering DARPA could replace the sex attractant receptor on the moth antennae with receptors for other things, like explosives, drugs or toxins," said Easton.

Via Mechanical energy scavenging from flying insects (pdf).

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