Researchers at the University of South Australia took inspiration from a superior 300 million year old flying machine – the dragonfly – to show why future flapping wing drones are likely to resemble the insect in shape, its wings and its gear.
A team of doctoral students led by Javaan Chahl, UniSA Professor of Sensor Systems, spent part of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown designing and testing key elements of a dragonfly-inspired drone that could match the skills extraordinary insects in hovering, cruising and aerobatics.
UniSA students worked on the project remotely, solving math formulas at home on whiteboards, scanning stereo photographs of insect wings into 3D models, and using spare rooms as rapid prototyping workshops. to test parts of the flapping wing drone.
Their results were published in the journal Drones.
Describing the dragonfly as “the bug at the top,” Prof Chahl says there are many engineering lessons that can be learned from his mastery in the air.
“Dragonflies are extremely effective in all areas of flight. They must be. After emerging from underwater until death (up to six months), male dragonflies are engaged in perpetual combat and dangerous against male rivals. Mating requires aerial pursuit of females and they constantly avoid predators. Their flight abilities have evolved over millions of years to ensure their survival, “explains Professor Chahl.
“They can turn quickly at high speed and take off while carrying more than three times their body weight. They are also one of nature’s most efficient predators, targeting, chasing and capturing their prey with a success rate of 95. %. “
The use of drones has exploded in recent years – for security, military, delivery, law enforcement, filming and more recently for health screening purposes – but compared to the dragonfly and d other flying insects, they are raw and absorb energy.
The UniSA team modeled the dragonfly’s unique body shape and aerodynamic properties to understand why it remains the ultimate flying machine.
Because intact dragonflies are notoriously difficult to capture, researchers developed an optical technique to photograph the wing geometry of 75 different species of dragonflies (Odonata) from glass display cases in museum collections.
In a first global experiment, they reconstructed 3D images of the wings, comparing the differences between species.
“Dragonfly wings are long, light and stiff with a high lift-to-drag ratio that gives them superior aerodynamic performance.
“Their long abdomen, which is about 35% of their body weight, has also evolved to serve many purposes. It houses the digestive tract, participates in reproduction and contributes to balance, stability and maneuverability. The abdomen plays a crucial role in their ability to fly. “
Researchers believe that a dragonfly-like drone could do many jobs, including collecting and delivering annoying and unbalanced loads, operating safely near people, exploring delicate natural environments and l ‘execution of long surveillance missions.
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