C.1 Source Acquisition


I chose to explore robotic flight as a topic for this assignment. I feel robotic flight is the next level of complexity after legged locomotion in robots and in nature.

The overarching question I posed was: “How do animals/insects achieve efficient and highly maneuverable flight in nature? What would it take to get a robot with such a capability?”

Various Search Results

To get my hands on robotics and bioinspired robotics papers, I started with general citation indices: Scopus and ISI.

Scopus Search Results

I decided to start with Scopus and entered the terms “robo* flight” in the "All fields" mode with a filter to limit to the papers published from 2006 to the present. I then sorted the returned page based on the number of citations with these results.

The most highly cited reference was "Three-year Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropyprobe (WMAP1) observations: Temperature analysis" with 392 citations. This reference is however clearly irrelevant to our area of exploration. The other results on the page were similarly varied in topic and thus completely useless. I went back and ran the search again, this time in the "Article, Title, Abstract, Keywords" mode. The results were again sorted by number of citations to give this page. This seemed to provide slightly better results.

The third paper on this page [1] has been cited 65 times and seemed like a good candidate for my main paper.

The relevance of other search results seems to decrease past the first few results and so I moved on to the other search tools.

ISI Search Results

I also used ISI Web of Science and again used the topic term "robo* flight", sorting the response by "times cited" and refining by filtering out papers older than 5 years. Further refining the search by checking "Robotics" as the subject area again provided [1] as the first relevant search result (4th overall).

A number of other papers were found browsing through the search results in the following pages and by relaxing the "Robotics" subject area criterion. These were:

[2] with 119 citations. (Although this article is from 2003, the number of citations makes it hard to ignore)
[3] with 34 citations.
[4] with 43 citations.
[5] with 116 citations.
[6] with 35 citations.

Addressing the Evaluation Rubrics

C.1.0) Source

To address the requirement "Identify one recent paper …. Cite it appropriately, using the References format found in the Wiki.", I chose to use reference [1]. I decided to focus on this paper since it had gotten a high hit in both the search engines I consulted in my search process.

This paper is concerned with a microrobotic fly, as can be seen from a quote from the abstract:

Biology is a useful tool when applied to engineering challenges that have been solved in nature. Here, the emulous goal of creating an insect-sized, truly micro air vehicle is addressed…

Thus this paper matches well with the question I posed at the beginning of the page.

C.1.1) Venue

I now offer evidence that the venue is appropriate for the topic under considerations and of sufficient quality to be worth reading more carefully.

Mission and Scope of Journal

The article under consideration was published in an IEEE publication. The journal is published by The IEEE Robotics and Automation Society which "strives to advance innovation, education, and fundamental and applied research in Robotics and Automation". The IEEE Xplore website tells us that "IEEE Transactions on Robotics has been the number one most-cited journal in robotics for many years, according to the annual Journal Citation Report (in particular in the latest 2007 edition) published by the Institute for Scientific Information." Since IEEE itself is a well known and well-respected organization we need no further proof that this article has a reliable source.

Relative Impact Factor

The ISI Journal Citation Report for this paper listed an impact factor of 2.035 which places it second on
the list of 16 journals in robotics tracked by this citation index.

Similarly, this journal is ranked 0.091 by the Scopus Journal Analyzer placing it also among the top four of the 16 robotics journals tracked by that index as well.

C.1.2) Authors' Qualifications

The author of this paper is a university professor at a reputable institution (Harvard University). To make sure he is also reasonably well considered within his field it is simplest to run some quick citation analyses. The author registers a Scopus-computed h-index of 13; In other words, the author has written more than thirteen different papers that have been cited at least that number of times by other experts publishing in the scientific publications tracked by Scopus. This may be slightly on the lower side, but we must also consider that the author is a relatively young voice, having received his Ph.D. only in 2004 from University of California, Berkeley. Since the Scopus-computed citation rate (focusing as it does on specific archival journal venues) tends to be conservative relative to fields such as robotics that stress conferences, these numbers seem convincing.

C.1.3) Source Identification Methods

I consulted with the librarian Mr. McGee through email with this initial list of research and he had this to say:

Sounds like a very challenging topic! I see your questions, but what search strategy did you employ to call these up? I think you're initial round of papers appear to be on target for your research, but I would recommend using some additional search tools, such as Scopus, Compendex and GoogleScholar. ISI is a good database, but it does not index conference literature, of which there is a lot of in the robotics field.

He was also kind enough to include some literature recommendations in his email.
Unfortunately by the time I received the constructive feedback it was a bit too late to go about restructuring this draft, but I hope to include more conference based material, as he suggested, next time.

C.1.4) High Quality Bioinspired Robotics Contribution

[2] is presented in Science, an extremely well known journal (with a Scopus rank of 4.777). This article has also been cited 119 times, further supporting its credibility.

It tells us that:

These experiments show how tiny insects control aerodynamic forces to actively maneuver through their environment… The torques required to turn are produced by remarkably subtle changes in wing motion. A slight tilt of the stroke plane angle and a minor change in stroke amplitude are sufficient to accelerate the animal around the yaw axis… Collectively, these results provide an important basis for future research on the neural and mechanical basis of insect flight, as well as insights for the design of biomimetic flying devices.

C.1.5) General Robotics Literature

[3] and [4] are part of general robotics literature that best address questions of how robots could develop flight capabilities like those seen in animals/insects.

Quality of Sources

Reference [3] has an ISI JCR impact factor of 1.943 and ranks 12th out of 59 journals in the Automation and Control Systems category. Thus it should be an acceptable source.

Reference [4] has an ISI JCR impact factor of 1.922 and ranks 49th out of 246 journals in the Engineering, Electrical and Electronic category and 9th out of 116 journals in the Engineering, Mechanical category. Hence it seem to be an acceptable source.

C.1.6) Biology Literature

[5] states that:

Insects have also stimulated a great deal of interest among physicists and engineers because, at first glance, their flight seems improbable using standard aerodynamic theory. The small size, high stroke frequency and peculiar reciprocal flapping motion of insects have combined to thwart simple ‘back-of-the-envelope’ explanations of flight aerodynamics.

This paper attempts to shed light on modeling the complex phenomena that accompany insect flight and gives us an accurate idea of how these allow the insect to be efficient and maneuver well during flight

[6] tell us:

Here we investigate the effect of changing the fore- and hindwing stroke-phase relationship during hovering flight conditions on the aerodynamic performance of each flapping wing by using a dynamically scaled electromechanical insect model.

It also tells us that:

The major benefit from the ability to modulate forces through fore- and hindwing phase relationships might be that it allows an insect to control lift production without further changes in stroke kinematics, thus offering an additional parameter for flight control.

Thus it shows that a specific technique used by insects with 2 pairs of wings enables them to execute complex flight patterns and that there have been attempts to try and replicate these techniques using robotic wings.

We now have our two biological papers to complement the two robotics references, and the assignment is now complete.


1. Wood, R. J., "The first takeoff of a biologically inspired at-scale robotic insect", IEEE Transactions on Robotics, vol. 24, issue 2, pp. 341-347, 2008.
2. Fry S.N., Sayaman R., Dickinson M.H., "The aerodynamics of free-flight maneuvers in Drosophila
", SCIENCE, vol. 300, issue 5618, pp. 495-498, April 2003.
3. Kim H.J., Shim D.H., "A flight control system for aerial robots: algorithms and experiments
", Control Engineering Practice, vol. 11, issue 12, pp. 1389-1400, Dec. 2003.
4. Sun Y., Fry S.N., Potasek D.P., Bell D.J., Nelson B.J., "Characterizing fruit fly flight behavior using a microforce sensor with a new comb-drive configuration", Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems, vol. 14, issue 1, pp. 4-11, Feb. 2005.
5. Sane S.P., "The aerodynamics of insect flight", Journal of Experimental Biology, vol. 206, issue 23, pp. 4191-4208, Dec. 2003.
6. Maybury W.J., Lehmann F.O., "The fluid dynamics of flight control by kinematic phase lag variation between two robotic insect wings", vol. 207, issue 26, pp. 4707-4726, Dec. 2004.