Monocopter design takes cues from maple seeds

What some helicopters do with two or more blades this one does with just one--and it's inspired by nature's spiraling maple seed.

The maple seed device seen next to actual samara seeds. Eric Schurr/A. James Clark School of Engineering, University of Maryland

Remember as a kid being entertained by how maple tree seeds (or samara fruit) would spin like helicopters as they fell around you in the fall? I do, and that's why I love this prototype rotorcraft by graduate students at the University of Maryland's A. James Clark School of Engineering.

It's a remote-controlled monocopter with a design based heavily on the aerodynamic and geometric properties of maple seeds. Researchers have tried for years to create an unmanned aerial vehicle that could mimic maple seeds' spiraling fall. The results out of Maryland are awesome.

As you can see in the video after the jump, the patent-pending device uses just one blade to take off, as well as a stabilizer to keep it steady. It looks weird, but it works. This is a great example of nature influencing science.

The students say they've created he world's smallest controllable single-winged rotorcraft, with the most minuscule having a maximum dimension of about 3.7 inches and a wing equal in size to a natural samara. Graduate student Evan Ulrich says he thinks the 'copter could be mass produced as a toy for less than $100, which even sounds high to us given that one of the parts experimented with is a vibrating motor from a pager.

There could also be military or rescue applications: a flyer fitted with a small camera could easily be sent across an area looking for survivors--or targets.

But no matter what the flyer ends up being used for, one thing is sure: I want one badly.

About the author

    With more than 15 years experience testing hardware (and being obsessed with it), Crave freelance writer Matt Hickey can tell the good gadgets from the great. He also has a keen eye for future technology trends. Matt has blogged for publications including TechCrunch, CrunchGear, and most recently, Gizmodo. Matt is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Matt.


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