Bat wings have inspired the creation of a new type of membrane wings for unmanned Micro Air Vehicles, more commonly called MAVs. Unlike other wings, these newly developed wings are able to change shape sans mechanical parts, doing so because of the wind forces experienced during flight. The lack of mechanical parts mean MAVs have lower maintenance demands and, thusly, lower operating costs.
The wings use a mixture of electricity and polymers to change shape as needed. Voltage is applied to electro-active polymers comprising the wing membrane — depending on the load, the wings will stiffen or loosen, tweaking the MAV’s aerodynamics for more efficient flights. According to researchers, these wings will allow for MAV flights over further distances than current wing technology.
An MAV, of course, is essentially a small UAV — it’s a small aerial vehicle that can be used for things like surveying a property. Differences in design over UAVs has resulted in increasingly more efficient and high-performance machines able to travel longer distances than a quadcopter. The wings, of course, are an important component affecting an MAV's abilities.
The work was done by researchers with Imperial College London and the University of Southampton with support and funding from the US Air Force and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council.
Said Professor Bharath Ganapathisubramani, the project’s lead:
We've successfully demonstrated the fundamental feasibility of MAVs incorporating wings that respond to their environment, just like those of the bats that have fuelled our thinking. We've also shown in laboratory trials that active wings can dramatically alter the performance. The combined computational and experimental approach that characterised the project is unique in the field of bio-inspired MAV design.