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Yeah! Let’s make a flying robot that responds to light and heat! How about a Butterfly-ornithopter with a large wings, a slow wingbeat, and muscle wires instead of a rotary motor? I say, heck yeah!

Or at least that’s the plan. It involves muscle wire–wire that contracts when current is applied to it (technically a shape memory alloy – SMA). This combined with what I learned while making an office supply ornithopter (see "The Flying Scrooge") made me think I could make a robotic butterfly that responds to light and temperature.

Now there is already a non-flying muscle wire kit that flaps it’s wings, but I think the wing surface area is much too small. When I was creating the Flying Scrooge, I found this neat video of a butterfly-like ornithopter that flew with a surprisingly slow wingbeat, because it had two pairs of wings.

Looking at the following video of a Japanese ornithopter, I can avoid actual aeronautical math and just estimate the size and weight of the Jap ornithopter.

Hmm, looks like maybe two wingbeats per second and a wing size of about 36 inches square. That’s doable. Probably weighs less than a pound.

Now if I can get the muscle wire to quickly respond, this might work. I’d use a Lithium Polymer battery (currently the battery with the highest strength to weight ratio), or perhaps an ultra capacitor, and a chip to oscillate the output from one set of wires to the other.

Time to do some napkin math.