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Bat Wings and Unmanned Vehicle Design: Newly Responsive Wing Design Could Lengthen Flights

Feb 18, 2016 06:40 PM EST
Bat wings
Bats' wings in flight provided cues for a new design for micro air vehicles (MAVs), a type of unmanned vehicle.
(Photo : Flickr: Aidan Jones)

Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) are a type of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is smaller than usual. Adding to this technology is a new type of membrane wings based on the design of actual bat wings. The latter have been successfully tested in-flight and may become a new type of MAV that flies for longer distances and is more economical to run.

Bat wings alter their shape in response to the forces they experience in flight and in the air -- so the new MAVs use this concept to make maintenance easier. Basically, electro-active polymers allow the wings to become either more stiff or more relaxed as voltage is applied. The wing design further improves their performance, too, according to a release.

As voltage input changes, the membrane and its aerodynamic make-up can move and be altered in flight, allowing the MAV to fly over longer distances than is already possible.

The project was developed by researchers at the United Kingdom's University of Southampton and Imperial College London. The U.S. Air Force provided additional support, via its European Office of Aerospace Research and Development (EOARD).

"No one has tried to simulate the in-flight behaviour of actuated bat-like wings before, so we had to go back to fundamentals, develop the mathematical models and build the multiphysics simulation software we needed from scratch. We had to make sure it could model not only the wings themselves but also the aerodynamic flows around them and the effect of the electric field generated across them," Dr. Rafael Palacios at Imperial, said in a statement.

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-Follow Catherine on Twitter @TreesWhales


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