Researchers have applied "biomimetic" technology to enable unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) to feel their way through turbulent wind.
Improving drone stability and aerodynamic efficiency
UAVs have enormous potential for autonomous surveillance, and are critical to successful intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, and reconnaissance (ISTAR) missions.
However, that potential could all be blown away in windy conditions. Undesirable aircraft motion caused by wind turbulence can blur image data, decrease the number of yearly flying days and result in aborted flights or, worse, crashes.
The RMIT Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research Team (RUASRT) has mimicked a bird’s ability to detect flow disturbances before it causes instability to develop sensors that allows UAVs to feel turbulent air before flying into it.
“The sensors detect upstream wind gusts and provide control inputs to counteract the impending undesirable motions much earlier than current technology permits,” says lead researcher Dr Abdulghani Mohamed.
This enables the UAV to take evasive control movements in a far timelier manner than is currently possible.
The sensors have successfully worked in wind-tunnel tests, and outdoor flight trials. The resulting system will significantly improve the stability, flight-path tracking, and aerodynamic efficiency of aircraft flying through turbulence.
The new technology also offers major payloads for ISTAR missions.
“ISTAR missions require small UAVs to operate autonomously at low altitudes in complex environments, like cities,” says Mohamed.
“But turbulence poses a safety issue, impacts on mission performance and on the quality of data collected.”
Dr Mohamed and RMIT graduate Rohan Gigacz are exploring unconventional aircraft configurations in an attempt to further enhance turbulence mitigation and flight path tracking.
“We have created a small UAV demonstrator capable of flying in high levels of turbulence, without impeding on endurance and capability, ultimately improving ISTAR missions,” says Mohamed.
This work has been partially funded and supported by in part by the US Air Force Office for Scientific Research, Defence Science and Technology Group, Defence Science Institute, and the Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.