Most previous aerial robots have been engineered to mirror the movements of creatures that can actually fly. However, it has proved difficult to mimic the complex engineering that nature has mastered through millions of years of evolution. For example, robots that are inspired by insects such as fruit flies have to continually adjust their flying motion to respond to changes in the wind. Recreating this complex control in such a small mechanism is tricky.

By turning logic on its head and basing their design on a sea creature, Leif Ristroph and colleagues at New York University have come up with a solution. Their design operates without the need for any control system.