Noob Q about inverter for an ornithopter

I was looking in the back of my Jameco catalog the other day and they listed a product called "Muscle wire". It's apparently a nickel-titanium alloy that shrinks as it heats up.

It occurred to me that I could flap ornithopter wings with it (a really small ornithopter). I was trying to figure out how I could switch voltage from one pair of wires (the flap UP wires) to the other pair of wires (the flap DOWN wires) without a microchip.

I came up with something I'm sure wouldn't work involving a couple transistors, a diode and a cap. Today on wikipedia I figured out that what I was doing was something close to an inverter.

So here's the question: Anyone know of a simple switching circuit that runs on a/c power and does not have square-wave switching characteristics?

I'll keep researching this myself, but sometimes 'tis quicker to ask the big-brained and kind hearted (you know who you are).

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Kiteman9 years ago
Muscle wire is a bit slow to move, and requires an opposing force to return it to its original length.

For instance, in the Stiquito robot, the legs are made of springy piano wire:


royalestel (author)  Kiteman9 years ago
Well, I was thinking of opposing pairs of muscle wire. Just thinking about it, that might be enough to double the 33 cycles/min. contraction rate. And it follows that I think that would be fast enough to keep a four-winged ornithopter afloat.

Guess I'll find out! :)

Say, do you know of a simple D/C switching circuit?
Just because you have two opposing wires doesn't mean you can run them twice as fast. The whole cycle of contraction and expansion takes two seconds. If you use two opposing wires, one will be expanding while the other one is contracting, but the "flap" of your wings will still be ones every two seconds - two slow for anything more than an ultralight glider.

You can probably rig up a clever set of levers to turn each contraction of the wire into two or more wingstrokes, but it didn't sound like that's what you were proposing...
royalestel (author)  Patrik9 years ago
You're right, I wasn't thinking of a levered deal. But after a little more thought, perhaps two pairs of offset ganged wires and temporally offset activation voltages would speed up the flapping cycle, as long as the wires have a sliding connection that only allows each wire to pull on the wings and exert no push. What think you?
Nope. Although the contraction of the wire is very fast, you still need a long enough off-period for the wire to cool down. If you try to switch it faster, I assume you will only get a fraction of the full contraction length the wires are capable of.

If you want to flap faster, your best bet would be to for the thinner and higher temperature wires. For example, although the 100 micron LT (low temp) wires work at 33 cycles/min, the 110 micron HT wires can do 50 cycles/min, and the 37 micron Ht wires can do up to 68 cycles/min (based on http://www.robotstore.com/site/mwfaq.asp ). That's getting into a much more interesting range, for a flapping wing...
royalestel (author)  Patrik9 years ago
Yeah. . . dang. Don't think the thinner wires will stand up to crash landings very well. Guess I'll just have to wait until those magnetically activated wires come out. . . .
guyfrom7up9 years ago
yeah, in a make podcast it was a compotition between the stiquito and another robot and the stiquito barely moved at all.
whatsisface9 years ago
I was going to suggest a 555 until I read the "No microchips" rule.
a circuit that replicates the action of a 555 can be created with a few transistors though and maybe a comparator or two.
royalestel (author)  Goodhart9 years ago
Well, wouldn't the comparator be bigger (physically) than the 555 chip and a board? Gotta learn more about electronics posthaste . . .
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