An Australian research team is developing a bio-inspired drone capable of using air flow to soar and stay in the air while minimising energy consumption.
Similarly to birds, the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), developed by a joint team of the Australian Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) and the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, can use updraft generated around cliffs or large buildings to maintain lift.
"This research aims to develop the sensing and control systems that will allow a small fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to achieve the same thing," said lead researcher Reece Clothier.
"Birds make soaring look easy, but when we try to mimic what they know by instinct, we realise just how far advanced nature is in its designs."
The team concentrates on developing strategies enabling the UAV move efficiently in the urban environment, decreasing its energy consumption using the flow of the air. The approach, requiring a combination of real-time wind sensing with complex flow models to locate possible upward airflows around large buildings, is believed to increase the aircraft’s endurance.
According to Jennifer Palmer, a senior research scientist in the Aerospace Division of DSTO, the ultimate goal is to design an unmanned aircraft that could autonomously predict airflows in its surrounding environment and – by using this information – minimise its energy consumption, maximise endurance and avoid areas of high turbulence.
"Small aircraft used for communications relay or surveillance and reconnaissance could greatly benefit by having a means of exploiting naturally occurring updrafts and avoiding the deleterious effects of turbulence in urban environments," said Palmer.