Date of Award

Summer 8-2017

Embargo Period


Degree Type

Dissertation (CMU Access Only)

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mechanical Engineering


Metin Sitti


Small scale unmanned aircraft, such as quadrotors, that are quickly emerging as versatile tools for a wide range of applications including search and rescue, hazardous environment exploration, or just shooting great video, are known as micro air vehicles (MAVs). However, for millimeter scale vehicles with weights under 10 grams, conventional flight technologies become greatly inefficient and instead inspiration is drawn from biology. Flapping wing MAVs (FWMAVs) have been created based on insects and hummingbirds in an effort to emulate their extreme agility and ability to hover in place. FWMAVs possess unique capabilities in terms of maneuverability, small size, and ability to operate in dynamic environments that make them particularly well suited for environmental monitoring and swarm applications such as artificial crop pollination. Despite their advantages, significant challenges in fabrication, power, and control must be overcome in order to make FWMAVs a reliable platform. Current designs suffer from high mechanical complexity and often rely on off-board power, sensing, and control, which compromises their autonomy and limits practical applications. The goal of my research is to develop a simple FWMAV design that provides high efficiency and controllability. An efficient, simple, and controllable vehicle design is developed utilizing the principles of resonance, emulation of biological flight control, and under-actuation. A highly efficient, resonant actuator is achieved by attaching a spring in parallel to the output shaft of a commercial geared DC micro-motor. This actuator directly drives the wings of the vehicle, allowing them to be controlled precisely and independently. This direct control strategy emulates biology and differs from other FWMAV designs that utilize complicated transmissions to generate flapping from rotary motor output. Direct control of the wings allows for emulation of biological wing kinematics, resulting in control based on wing motion alone. Furthermore, under-actuation is employed to mimic the rotational motion of insect wings. A rotational joint is added between the motor and wing membrane such that the wing rotates passively in response to aerodynamic forces that are generated as the wing is driven. This design is realized in several stages, initial prototyping, simulation and development of the actuator and wings, then finally a control system is developed. First the system was modeled and improved experimentally in order to achieve lift off. Improvements to the actuator were realized through component variation and custom fabrication increasing torque and power density by 161.1% and 666.8% respectively compared to the gearmotor alone and increased the resonant operating frequency of the vehicle from 4 Hz to 23 Hz. Advances in wing fabrication allowed for flexible wings that increased translational lift production by 35.3%, aerodynamic efficiency by 41.3%, and the effective lift coefficient by 63.7% with dynamic twisting. A robust control architecture was then developed iteratively based on a date driven system model in order to increase flight time from 1 second (10 wing strokes) to over 10 seconds (230 wing strokes). The resulting design improves lift to weight by 166%, allowing for a payload capacity of approximately 8.7 g and offers the potential for fully autonomous operation with all necessary components included on-board. A thermal model for micro-motors was developed and tuned to accurately predict an upper limit of system operation of 41 seconds as well as to optimize a heatsink that increases operating time by 102.4%.