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Scientists created a 3D model of the bat’s flight to aid creation of the new generation of drones

Posted March 1, 2019

Scientists and engineers want to improve drones so that their flight would be more efficient. We want drones that can fly for long distances and manoeuvre mind-air very precisely. So far we achieved great success, but drones still need a lot of improvement. Why not learn something from bats? Engineers at the University of British Columbia say that it‘s a great idea.

Bat’s flight is a huge mystery to scientists because their winds are very flexible and morph in different shapes mid-flight. Image credit: Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Bats are among nature’s best flyers. They can get into very tight spots and change direction very precisely. They are tough too, being able to fly for very long distances. Now engineers have captured the full complexity of bat flight in a three-dimensional computer model – this has never been done before. Scientists made a simple mock-up of a bat wing and tested it in a wind tunnel, mimicking the motion of the bat. They captured aeromechanical forces around the wing to see where the turbulent and smooth air goes and managed to build a complete model of bat flight. Scientists say that a better understanding of bat’s flight could lead to improvements in drone designs.

Bat wings are quite complex. They contain multiple joints and stretchable membranes and move in peculiar ways. In fact, scientists couldn’t accurately describe the flight of the bat up until now that these models were created. Previously scientists have suggested numerical models of bat flapping flight, but they were too simplified or even incomplete to be of real practical benefit in terms of using this information to create human-made flying machines. Bat wings morph during flight to fit different modes of flying. That is what makes them unique and such good flyers. But at the same time, bat wings are extremely difficult to emulate and describe. That is why computer simulations were never completely accurate.

Scientists now created these 3D models of the bat’s flight. Although there is still some room for improvement, information they provide is already quite useful in terms of simulating bat’s flight in some sort of drones. Rajeev Jaiman, senior author of the study, said: “We’ll be working to further optimize the flapping motion. Once this is in place, we’ll have a foundation for designing efficient, agile, automated bats – think smart drones that can fly as a flock and serve as tools for business or for emergency response”.

Why would we want automated bats? Well, their flight could be more efficient than conventional drones, which would provide a quicker flight and more manoeuvrability. Also, drone-bats could fit in tighter spots and would adapt easier to changing conditions. They could be used for surveillance, reconnaissance, search and rescue or wildlife monitoring. However, these models are just the first steps towards emulating bat’s flight in real life.


Source:  University of British Columbia

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