Bat Flight Inspires Micro Air Vehicle Design

Bats in flight
The Associated Press

SOUTHAMPTON, England, Feb. 18 (UPI) — Researchers in England have outfitted unmanned micro air vehicles with new wings inspired by bats.

The membrane wings are without mechanical components, making them lighter and more flexible. Voltage inputs manipulate the wings mid-flight, allowing them to function like artificial muscles and change shape in response to shifting aerodynamic forces.

MAVs using the new, more economical wings use less energy and are able to make longer flights.

A team of researchers from the University of Southampton and Imperial College London have been working to incorporate the physiology of bats into unmanned aerial vehicle and MAV technology.

High-speed cameras and computer models have allowed scientists to observe and mimic the aerodynamic advantages of bat wings.

“We’ve successfully demonstrated the fundamental feasibility of MAVs incorporating wings that respond to their environment, just like those of the bats that have fueled our thinking,” Bharath Ganapathisubramani, project leader and Southampton professor, said in a news release.

“We’ve also shown in laboratory trials that active wings can dramatically alter the performance,” he said. “The combined computational and experimental approach that characterized the project is unique in the field of bio-inspired MAV design.”

Ganapathisubramani and his colleagues are now working on incorporating the wings into current commercial MAV designs.

“This is a paradigm shift in the approach to MAV design,” project researcher Rafael Palacios said. “Instead of a traditional approach of scaling down existing aircraft design methods, we constantly change the membrane shape under varying wind conditions to optimize its aerodynamic performance.”