Scientists take inspiration from nature to make drones of the future
By James Maynard, Tech Times
A tiny drone, inspired by insects, flaps its wings to fly.
(Photo : Pakpong Chirarattananon et al. 2014 Bioinspir. Biomim. 9 025004)
Drone developers from around the globe are taking inspiration from nature for the latest generations of automated aerial vehicles.
Researchers are faced with challenging problems of navigating tight environments, whether in urban environments, or underground. A total of 14 research teams have turned to nature for inspiration to develop superior capabilities in drones.
Drones are now capable of picking up and delivering packages, which requires precise flight control and navigation. Bats are well-equipped for flying in and out of tight spaces. Vehicles with similar capabilities could be used in small areas that are unsafe for human occupation. One example could be in damaged nuclear power plants, like the one at Fukushima, Japan.
Automated aerial vehicles that flock together like birds, could allow rescue workers a network of airborne cameras to search for victims of disasters.
"Flying animals can be found everywhere in our cities. From scavenging pigeons to alcohol-sniffing fruit flies that make precision landings on our wine glasses, these animals have quickly learned how to control their flight through urban environments to exploit our resources," David Lentink of Stanford University, guest editor of the journal issue announcing the research, said.
Harvard University researchers developed a fully-functional drone aircraft that is just the size of a penny. This would allow reconnaissance and surveillance in the tightest of spaces. For military purposes, this tiny unarmed aerial vehicle (UAV) would be nearly impossible to detect or target. This new drone could also aid biologists, in their study of flight patterns and behaviors of insects.
"To enable our drones to fly equally well in wind and clutter, we need to solve several flight control challenges during all flight phases: take-off, cruising, and landing," Lentink explained in a press release announcing the multiple research projects.
Wind and other weather conditions could prove hazardous for the drones. Many of the new designs will not be fully practical until they are able to withstand wind and heavy rains. One group of researchers is looking at the hawk moth for design ideas that would allow the automated vehicles to withstand such forces.
The flying squirrel was the inspiration for the jumpglider, a small drone which combines a spring-loaded launcher with an aerodynamic body to obtain flight at a small cost in energy.
Investigation of natural sources as inspiration for new generations of drones was profiled in a special issue of the journal Bioinspiration and Biomimetics. This edition focuses on advances in flight control methods inspired by nature.