A French inventor took to Kickstarter last week to raise funds for an insect-inspired winged drone called MetaFly. It generated quite a bit of buzz. At the time this article was published, more than 1,850 people had pledged more than $187,500 to bring the drone to market.
Unlike traditional commercial drones, which use propellers to generate lift, winged drones use, you guessed it, wings to take flight. Much like the bees it’s modeled after, MetaFly flaps its wings vigorously, creating a differential between draft and lift — an efficient flight mechanic used by flying animals. Thanks in part to this efficiency, the drone is lightweight and maneuverable, if at times a bit erratic in flight.
“[MetaFly’s] purpose is to allow you to discover and experience this unique way of flying,” Edwin Van Ruymbeke, MetaFly’s inventor, told Digital Trends. “This is exciting at a whole different level compared with usual drones or flying models.”
MetaFly is controlled using a two-channel remote control, which allows it to perform “fantastic trajectories and maneuvers in the air,” Van Ruymbeke said. A skilled controller can navigate MetaFly either outdoors in indoors, but must be careful not to crash into walls, colleagues, or computers. There’s no crash avoidance built into the drone.
MetaFly can fly up to 8 minutes on a 12-minute charge, and reach speeds up to 11 mph. The remote has a wireless range of 320 feet.
Since MetaFly only relies on itswings to fly, it doesn’t need motors or a bulky battery, meaning it’s lighter in weight than traditional drones. The machine is also designed to be durable. It’s made out of elastic materials and sports front and rear bumpers to help protect it in serious collisions. A video promoting the product shows a user intentionally crashing MetaFly into a tree, though we can’t confirm if it recovered.
The technology behind MetaFly is the result of some five decades of tinkering by Van Ruymbeke, an aeronautical engineer with experience developing bio-inspired drones. In 2014, Van Ruymbeke’s Bionic Bird raised more than $171,500 on Indiegogo.
Biomimicry isn’t all fun and games — biology has inspired some groundbreaking inventions that save lives and shape the future. MetaFly won’t save the world but it seems like a fun way to spend a few hours.
MetaFly is currently going for $89 on Kickstarter. It’s expected to ship in September 2019.