Professor Simon Watkins
Professor Simon Watkins is responsible for undergraduate courses in Thermo-fluids and Vehicle Aerodynamics and is involved with many final year and postgraduate research projects in aerospace and automotive engineering.
Professor Watkins was the originator and architect of the first automotive engineering degree in Australia and also set up RMIT Racing in 2000. RMIT Racing is one of 200+ teams from universities around the world that design and build open-wheel racing cars, winning the FISITA Formula Student World Cup in Silverstone UK in 2007 and the American FSAE event in Detroit in 2006. He now supervises the design, build and testing of all electric FSAE cars. He also leads a Micro Air Vehicles (MAV) Group at RMIT (see later) with funding from the USAF supporting several PhD students.
- Professor, Automotive Engineering, SAMME, RMIT, 2008- present
- Program Leader, Bachelor of Engineering (Automotive), 2000-2006
- Director, Society of Automotive Engineers-Australasia (SAE-A), 2000-2007
- Faculty Advisor RMIT FSAE Racing Team, 2000-2010
- Visiting Professor, University of Stuttgart, June 1999 and June 2000.
- Manager, RMIT Industrial Wind Tunnel, 1995-2009
- Research Engineer, The City University, London (1980-1983)
- Graduate and Trainee Engineer, British Aerospace, UK (1977-1980)
Professional interests and links to the industry
- Fellow, Society of Automotive Engineers-Australasia (SAE-A)
- Member of the Royal Society of Victoria
- Member of the Society of Automotive Engineers-International (SAE-Int)
Accomplishments and achievements
- Chair, Vehicle Wind Noise Committee, SAE International (Detroit, 2000-2003)
- Numerous overseas invited seminars (e.g. CALTECH, 15/1/08, Imperial College 26/6/07)
- Aerodynamic consultant to Ford of Australia, General Motors Holden, Tenix Defence System
- Research commercialisation includes truck aerodynamic drag-reducing devices following over $500,000 of NERDDC grants in the early Eighties. Approximately 1/4 of fuel-saving aerodynamic devices on Australian Trucks are from patented/registered designs that arose from the research.
- Aerodynamic consultant for the Aurora Solar Vehicle that won the World Solar Challenge in 1999 and the Sunrace in 2003.
- Successfully supervised students: 20+ PhD or MEng students, many with ARC support, including five APA(I) and six APA students.
- Provided infrastructure, in conjunction with Monash University, extensively supported by ARC funding. This includes the largest wind tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere and key infrastructure arising from several ARC Grants (including Linkage-Infrastructure, two ARC RIEF and two ARC Mechanism C) totalling $2.649m.
What the MAV Group does
MAVs are “a class of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that has a size restriction and may be autonomous. Modern craft can be as small as 15 centimetres. Development is driven by commercial, research, government, and military purposes; with insect-sized aircraft reportedly expected in the future. The small craft allows remote observation of hazardous environments inaccessible to ground vehicles. MAVs have been built for hobby purposes, such as aerial robotics contests and aerial photography“
My interest in micro planes has resulted in a research group in the MAV Group which we started in 2001, by producing one of the lightest airframe (7.3g) membrane-structure micro air vehicles in the world at that time. In the last few years we have been awarded 8 grants by the USAF for work on understanding the dynamic response of fixed, rotary and flapping wing MAVs in turbulent flow, including 5 Window on Science travel grants to give invited talks at USA and European meetings. Most research is now focussed on understanding MAVs and the influence of both their design type (e.g. fixed wing vs flapping vs rotary) and how these differing designs cope with the effects of atmospheric turbulence. I supervise several PhD students in this area.
We have been focusing on how MAVs will cope with the turbulence inherent in the Atmospheric Boundary Layer (ABL) in order to make MAVs more useful. Our previous work documented the temporal and spatial environment of flight through turbulence inherent in the ABL, as would be perceived by MAVs, both manmade and natural (e.g. small birds, insects). This has involved working with the instrumented eagle of the Oxford Animal Flight Group where we took multi-point measurements of turbulence whilst the instrumented eagle was soaring and high speed videoing on locusts flying in smooth and turbulent flow in our wind tunnels. Depicted below is the largest bubble in the world, which shows some of the turbulent structures in the ABL which MAVs have to traverse.
We have replicated this turbulent environment in several wind tunnels, including the largest wind tunnel in the Southern Hemisphere and shown that aspects of the naturally turbulent flow environment had been reproduced with good accuracy.
We have flown instrumented fixed wing, rotary wing and flapping MAVs in the tunnel, including some aerobatics (and many crashes!). Pilot inputs and aircraft accelerations were recorded on the MAVs. For some tests, synchronised measurements of the approach flow time history (u,v,w sampled at 1250 Hz) at four laterally disposed locations were made and retro-reflective markers and six video cameras permitted video tracking. The piloting aim was to hold straight and level flight in the 12m wide x 4m high x ~50m long test section whilst flying in a range of turbulent wind conditions. The results showed that the rotary craft were less sensitive to the effects of turbulence compared to the fixed wing craft. It was found that whilst fixed wing aircraft were relatively easy to fly in smooth air, they became extremely difficult to fly under high turbulence conditions. Rotary craft, whilst somewhat more difficult to fly per. se. did not become significantly harder to fly in relatively high turbulence levels.
Videos for some of the more adventurous flight experiments in wind tunnels can be found on the www, including:
First attempts at aerobatic MAV flight in a wind tunnel
High speed videoing of locusts in a wind tunnel
Pressures varying around a flapping wing MAV
The background to our USAF-sponsored MAV work in turbulence can be downloaded from:
MAV project – final report (PDF 3.3MB 83p)
MAV project – addendum (PDF 85KB 4p)
Mitigating the Effects of Atmospheric Turbulence: Toward More Useful MAVs (PPT 5.1MB 11p)
- PhD (RMIT)
- BSc Hons (Bristol, UK)
- Penn, M.,Yi, G.,Watkins, S.,Martinez Groves-Raines, M.,Windsor, S.,Mohamed, A. (2022). A method for continuous study of soaring and windhovering birds In: Scientific Reports, 12, 1 - 9
- Gao, N.,Marschall, M.,Burry, J.,Watkins, S.,Salim, F. (2022). Understanding occupants’ behaviour, engagement, emotion, and comfort indoors with heterogeneous sensors and wearables In: Scientific Data, 9, 1 - 16
- Mohamed, A.,Taylor, G.,Watkins, S.,Windsor, S. (2022). Opportunistic soaring by birds suggests new opportunities for atmospheric energy harvesting by flying robots In: Journal of the Royal Society Interface, 19, 1 - 19
- Mohamed, A.,Watkins, S.,Ol, M.,Jones, A. (2021). Flight-relevant gusts: Computation-derived guidelines for micro air vehicle ground test unsteady aerodynamics In: Journal of Aircraft, 58, 693 - 699
- Panta, A.,Fisher, A.,Mohamed, A.,Marino, M.,Xu, R.,Liu, H.,Watkins, S. (2020). Low Reynolds number aerodynamics of leading-edge and trailing-edge hinged control surfaces: Part I statics In: Aerospace Science and Technology, 99, 1 - 10
- Watkins, S.,Burry, J.,Mohamed, A.,Marino, M.,Prudden, S.,Fisher, A.,Kloet, N.,Jakobi, T.,Clothier, R. (2020). Ten questions concerning the use of drones in urban environments In: Building and Environment, 167, 1 - 10
- Gavrilovic, N.,Mohamed, A.,Marino, M.,Watkins, S.,Moschetta, J.,Benard, E. (2019). Avian-inspired energy-harvesting from atmospheric phenomena for small UAVs In: Bioinspiration & Biomimetics, 14, 1 - 13
- Jakobi, T.,Kolomenskiy, D.,Ikeda, T.,Watkins, S.,Fisher, A.,Liu, H.,Ravi, S. (2018). Bees with attitude: the effects of directed gusts on flight trajectories In: Biology Open, 7, 1 - 32
- Watkins, S.,Mohamed, A.,Prudden, S.,Tennent, D.,Marino, M.,Fisher, A. (2018). Upstream Wind Sensing for Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles In: 2018 5th IEEE International Workshop on Metrology for AeroSpace (MetroAeroSpace), Rome, Italy, 20-22 June 2018
- Gigacz, R.,Mohamed, A.,Poksawat, P.,Panta, A.,Watkins, S. (2018). Exploring tandem wing UAS designs for operation in turbulent urban environments In: International Journal of Micro Air Vehicles, 10, 254 - 261
- Development of a Gust Generator for Avian Research. Funded by: Asian Office of Aerospace Research and Development Grant from (2021 to 2024)
- Avian Response to Gusts (via UniMelb). Funded by: Defence Science Institute - Scholarship from (2020 to 2023)
- Learning From Nature: Counteracting the Effects of Turbulence on MAVs. Funded by: United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research Grant (2014 onwards) from (2019 to 2023)
- Swarming: micro-flight data capture and analysis in architectural design (Administered by Swinburne University). Funded by: ARC Linkage Grant 2015 Round 1 from (2017 to 2022)
- Flow Measurement Facility for Large-Scale Industrial Aerodynamics (Administered by Monash University). Funded by: ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities (LIEF) Grant 2017 from (2017 to 2017)
22 PhD Completions and 7 Masters by Research Completions8 PhD Current Supervisions