When it comes to flying creations, inspiration is often gathered from a common pool of creatures: birds, insects, maybe a dragon or two. Researchers at New York University went a more unconventional route, and designed a flying robot based on, of all things, a jellyfish. The robot doesn't need water to pull off its gravity-defying maneuvers, however, prompting the creators to call it an "aerial jellyfish".
The movements from the robot are the same as what you'd observe from a jellyfish, with four wings being used to basically whoosh air downwards, propelling the robot upward into the air. Air presents some difficulties that aren't present in water, and nature hasn't replicated the jellyfish's design outside of the aquatic world, so this presents some unique challenges for the researchers.
The robot has been described as "sort of dumb," in that it doesn't have sensors to help it adjust to air currents and stay aloft. Instead, the jellyfish robot stays in the air through an entirely simple process -- opening and closing its wings over and over again. The design is best reserved for use in small robots, such as small drone-like robots that can be used to gauge pollution levels.
Said Assistant Professor of Mathematics Leif Ristroph, "Our [robot] is an aerial jellyfish if you will. No one's ever built this, and as far as we know nature never built it either to fly in the air. Maybe that indicates that it's a bad idea? In any case we got it to work, so maybe not that bad."