Researchers at both the University of Southampton and Imperial College London have developed a micro air vehicle (MAV) that has “membrane wings,” not unlike a bat, that makes it vary its economical flight to adapt to weather and wind.
Drone has artificial muscles
The wings on the MAV are essentially artificial muscles that are capable of changing their shape based on flight conditions and feature no mechanical parts. The muscles/wings use electro-active polymers that make them more or less rigid based on their responses to an electrical current that runs through them.
The bat design makes sense as bat flight is truly exceptional and the researchers believe that this design will allow MAVs to enjoy considerably more range while also preserving their battery life.
“We’ve successfully demonstrated the fundamental feasibility of MAVs incorporating wings that respond to their environment, just like those of the bats that have fuelled our thinking. We’ve also shown in laboratory trials that active wings can dramatically alter the performance. The combined computational and experimental approach that characterized the project is unique in the field of bio-inspired MAV design,” said Bharath Ganapathisubramani of Southampton’s Aerodynamics and Flight Mechanics Group and leader of the project.
Bat’s are the only mammals capable of natural flight but it’s not just natural flight. The bats’ flight is nearly effortless.
The researchers believe that they will incorporate this bat-inspired design into MAVs ready for sale within five years time.
Bat design is a paradigm shift
Dr Rafael Palacios of Imperial’s Department of Aeronautics, who led Imperial’s side of the project said, “This is a paradigm shift in the approach to MAV design.
“Instead of the traditional approach of scaling down existing aircraft design methods, we constantly change the membrane shape under varying wind conditions to optimise its aerodynamic performance.”
The funding for the project came from both the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) and United State Air Force’s European Office of Aerospace Research and Development (EOARD).
Drones and MAVs are here to stay and will continue to be news each and every day as this emerging, yet proven technology, finds more private, commercial and military uses going forward.