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Birds: the Future of UAVs?

MAE graduate student
Kim Wright

The engineers who build unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) inspired by birds won the best Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering poster award at Research Expo.

Led by Professor Tom Bewley and graduate student Kim Wright, they analyzed several slow-motion videos of birds landing to generate a working hypothesis for how wing morphing and flapping can be mimicked to engineer an aircraft that could land on a perch and conduct surveillance. They then built a prototype UAV capable of wing sweep, a key feature of perching. The craft was made from balsa wood and foam using standard hobby aircraft construction techniques. Wings were crafted with carbon fiber, fiberglass, high density foam and rip-stop nylon. Carbon fiber tubing was used for the shoulder joint structure and fiberglass reinforcement was used in heavily stressed areas on the fuselage.

"Birds can move their wings in a myriad of ways, providing a level of aerodynamic control that is unmatched by UAVs," Wright said.

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