It was seeing the birds fly that gave human the idea of using air to their advantage. No wonder scientists are still looking for ways to imitate the exact mechanism in airplanes, the birds use in flying. The researchers at the RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia are pursuing this goal of making UAVs inspired by the birds that  soar up higher without flapping their wings.  The study is being done in collaboration with the Australian Department of Defence’s Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO). The team is attempting to develop a bio-inspired unmanned aircraft capable of soaring like birds, which will be the first of its kind.

Bio-inspired Unmanned Aircraft

The soaring birds take advantage of rising air currents to save energy, they also use positive air flows generated around buildings to maintain lift. The aircraft in the same way can take advantage of air currents to increase energy efficiency and boost endurance.

“This research aims to develop the sensing and control systems that will allow a small fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to achieve the same thing,” says Dr Clothier, who is the lead researcher. “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 long-term goal of the project is to design a soaring UAV that can autonomously predict airflows from its surrounding and use this information to boost energy efficiency, endurance and avoid areas of high turbulence. However, importance will be given on proving the feasibility of “urban” soaring which will include the use of real-time sensing of wind with complex flow models that will help the aircraft to identify possible positive airflows around large buildings.

“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,” says Dr Jennifer Palmer, a Senior Research Scientist in the Aerospace Division of DSTO.

Without research, it might seem nature is well ahead of technology like giving birds an instinct to fly in a way that can save energy but when natural mechanism is applied to make something, the technology leaves nature behind and that’s exactly what’s happening here.