iMORPH Blue Bear rendering“We think nature offers a lot of solutions to current engineering problems,” said Aimy Wissa, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. “The same UAS can’t perform all the tasks a bird can, including taking off, hovering, perching, landing and cruising. Birds can do all these things efficiently, where UAS are based on point design. They’re good at one thing but not the other. That’s the reason we work on adaptive structures.

Soon-Jo Chung, associate professor for Aerospace Engineering & Coordinated Science Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has been reverse engineering the agility and maneuverability of birds and bats for years, and was the first to develop a bird-like UAS with the ability to perch on a human hand.

He’s currently working on two projects—one to design a UAS that looks and acts like a falcon to steer birds away from airplanes and another to build bat-inspired drones to monitor complex environments, such as construction sites.

“Whether a drone has wings inspired by birds or bats, it will have more endurance and be safer than a drone that relies only on a high-speed motor and perhaps spinning airfoils that could cause damage in a collision—not to mention the fact that they’re quieter and more energy efficient,” Chung said.

“If a drone is bird- or bat-like it’s much lighter and more energy efficient because it can glide without moving its wing at all. They can fly much longer distances, They can stoop and perch on a wire and maybe even recharge before they move on. These drones can be viewed as intelligent sensing vehicles for a variety of applications.”

So much to be learned about intelligent control surfaces, imaging, navigating and all the rest of it from the natural world.


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