Date of Award

Fall 2014

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical Engineering

First Advisor

Xinyan Deng

Committee Member 1

George Chiu

Committee Member 2

Justin E. Seipel


The biology, physiology, kinematics, and aerodynamics of insect flight have been a longstanding fascination for biologists and engineers. The former three are easily obtained through the observation of the organic species. The latter though, is very difficult to study in this fashion. In many cases, aerodynamic forces and fluid-body interactions can be simulated with computational fluid dynamics; another option is to use dynamically-scaled, experimental set-ups to measure physically these values.

An archetypal, experimental set-up may include one or two scaled wings, where each wing is actuated to achieve upwards of three degrees of freedom. The three degrees of freedom correspond biologically to the stroke, deviation, and rotation motions of real insects. The wing modules may be fixed to rotate about a central, fourth axis, mimicking the insect body rotation. Alternatively, the wing modules can be fixed to translate in one direction, copying the forward flight pattern of an insect. These experiments usually are performed in a tank of mineral oil, seeded to highlight the fluid's movement. Unfortunately, the current state of experimental apparatuses limit the number and complexity of studiable flight patterns.

The goal is to use a subset of robotics called cable-driven parallel manipulators to improve upon and expand the capabilities of these apparatuses. For these robots, rigid links are replaced with tensioned cables and actuated via electric motors. Each cable attaches to the central manipulator platform, similar to other parallel manipulators. Some advantages of a cable-driven design are large position workspaces, low inertia, high manipulator dynamics, large strength-to-weight ratio, and no actuator-error stack-up. Cable manipulators have been researched in the lab and have been deployed commercially, such as at professional sports stadiums.

The manipulator uses a standard cuboid frame, with eight winches actuating eight cables. The manipulator platform is a scaled insect body, with each wing capable of three degrees of freedom, and an optimized attachment frame for the cables. The manipulator's workspace for six degrees of freedom was derived from previous works and simulated in MathWorks' MATLAB for a variety of parameterizations.

The lead design incorporates a novel, new cable configuration for realizing greater rotational capability over standard cable-driven manipulators. While a standard, "Straight" cable configuration allows for large translation but almost no rotation, the new "Twist" cable configuration provides a smaller yet spread out workspace that is sustainable through singular rotations up to at least 45°, as well as simultaneous rotations about multiple axes. Optimal trends for the attachment frame are discerned from comparing a multitude of size permutations for singular rotations. No one attachment frame holds equal rotational potential about all three axes; however, the strengths and weaknesses of an attachment frame easily are adaptable based on the proposed insect maneuver. To showcase the versatility of the apparatus with a 6 in × 2 in × 4 in attachment frame, four different flight maneuvers are analyzed.

The first two case studies prove the cable-driven apparatus can combine the individual functions of existing experimental apparatuses: MATLAB simulations show the device can perform a stationary 116° yaw rotation and separately can translate the end effector 32 in along one axis. A third case study investigates a previously published work on an evasive pitching maneuver from a hawkmoth. In the original study, the normally six-degree-of-freedom movement was distilled down to only one-dimensional translation and pitch rotation, such that it could be replicated in the lab. Using the cable-driven apparatus though, it is possible instead to reproduce the generalized, six-degree-of-freedom maneuver. Finally, a conceptual flight pattern is created to demonstrate the unique advantages of the cable-driven apparatus. The flight path models a pitched dive into a banked quarter turn, with a pitched climb upon exiting the turn. The equal necessity and coupling of all degrees of freedom for this maneuver means it cannot be performed on current experimental apparatuses, except for the cable-driven apparatus.

This new cable-driven test apparatus, with its unique design and modifications, would improve the capabilities for experimental studies and provide the most realistic set-up for flapping-flight research.