Dr Reece Clothier with a prototype of a bio-inspired unmanned aircraft, under development at RMIT. Photo RMIT University
8 April 2014 aerospace-technology.com
Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, are working on a project to develop an autonomous unmanned aircraft, designed to improve energy efficiency and endurance.
Developed inspired by soaring birds, the project is carried out in collaboration with Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) of Australia. It is supported by the Defence Science Institute.
The autonomous unmanned aircraft prototype has been designed to replicate a bird, and is capable of staying airborne by using updrafts around buildings to increase its endurance.
RMIT University lead researcher Dr Reece Clothier said that soaring birds used positive air flows generated around features such as cliffs or large buildings to maintain lift.
"This research aims to develop the sensing and control systems that will allow a small fixed-wing unmanned aircraft to achieve the same thing," said Clothier.
"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 project will combine real-time sensing of wind and complex flow models to find possible positive airflows around large buildings.
According to DSTO aerospace division senior research scientist Dr Jennifer Palmer, the unmanned aircraft can predict airflows in its surrounding environment and by using this information it minimises its energy consumption, maximise its endurance and avoid areas of high turbulence.
"DSTO undertakes research in a number of areas related to autonomous unmanned aircraft, and this is a great opportunity to engage with academia on a project with both scientific challenges and real-world outcomes," Palmer said.
The research team intends to realise the potential benefits of unmanned aircraft technology in applications that range from fire fighting to search and rescue, agriculture, infrastructure inspection and public protection.