Revamp Drones Similar To Bird Flight

By Supriya Mangalpalli

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A new study utilizes computer modeling and aerodynamics to understand how birds alter the shape of their wings in response to gusts and other disturbances and apply this study to uncrewed aerial vehicles or other flying machines.

Christina Harvey working with wind tunnel fashions of gull wings within the lab on the College of Michigan (Credit: Christina Harvey/UC Davis)

Harvey and colleagues at the University of Michigan are aiming to enhance autonomous drones similar to bird flight since almost all bird species are capable of both stable and unstable flight and use wing movements to change the modes. As gull wings have three wind tunnel models, with a combination of aerodynamics studies using 3D printed models of gulls and gull wings in a wind tunnel and computer modeling of inertial forces to analyze how the gulls achieve stability along their long axis. A detailed study of bird flight can provide enhancement in drone designs for various uses.

“Birds easily perform challenging maneuvers and they’re adaptable, so what exactly about their flight is most useful to implement in future aircraft?” said Christina Harvey, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at the University of California, Davis and lead author on the paper.” Gulls are very common and easy to find, and they’re really impressive gliders,” she said.

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“The flight qualities analysis asks: if you built an aircraft exactly like a gull, would a human be able to fly it?” Harvey said. As autonomous aerial vehicles, or drones are widely in demand, hence, it is necessary to design these vehicles with the capability to navigate in complex urban environments similar to birds. Gulls has the ability to respond to perturbations in the long axis by adjusting their wrist and elbow joints. The research team was able to predict the gull’s flying qualities and how they instantly recover from perturbation like a gust. This reaction time provides us with the controllable range for the birds and hence, the bird flight dynamics can be applied to aircraft.

Harvey aims to collaborate with other campus researchers, including the California Raptor Center and researchers that are studying and working on insect flight at the College of Biological Sciences.

Click here for the Published Research Paper


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