Airflow prediction to make more energy efficient drones

RMIT University and the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO) are developing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that can predict different levels of airflow and avoid flying against turbulent winds to save energy.

"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," said Dr Jennifer Palmer, senior research scientist in the Aerospace Division of DSTO, in a statement.

By studying the way soaring birds use certain air flows around cliffs or large buildings to maintain a steady flight, the research team is developing sensors for the UAVs that can pick up on updrafts around buildings to stay airborne for longer periods of time while using less energy.

"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,” said lead researcher Dr Reece Clothier.

The information gathered from the sensors will be fed into control systems in real time, allowing a UAV to locate the right airflows to increase endurance.

The researchers aim to achieve a world first by developing a UAV that mimics the design of soaring birds.

Copyright © 2014 IDG Communications, Inc.

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