According to the scientists led by National University of Singapore’s (NUS) Dr Yao-Wei Chin, the new ‘Ornithopter’ – or flapping wing aircraft – mimics the aerobatic manoeuvres of a swift, making them more versatile, safer and quieter than existing quadcopter drones.
Moreover, at just 26 gram – the equivalent of two tablespoons of flour – the new drone can fly in cluttered environments near humans, with the ability to glide, hover at very low power, and stop quickly from fast speeds, avoiding collisions.
According to University of South Australia (UniSA) Professor Javaan Chahl, designed a flapping wing drone similar in size to a swift – or large moth – is just one strategy to improve the flight performance of flapping wing drones.
“There are existing ornithopters but, until now, they were too inefficient and slow to be agile.”
“We have overcome these issues with our flapping wing prototype, achieving the same thrust generated by a propeller,” says Chahl.
“Flapping wings can lift like an aeroplane wing, while making thrust like a propeller and braking like a parachute. We have put this together to replicate the aggressive flight patterns of birds by simple tail control.”
According to Dr Yao-Wei Chin, such biologically-inspired drones could be a boon to various environments.
They could be used to pollinate indoor vertical farms without damaging dense vegetation – unlike rotary-propelled quadcopters whose blades risk shredding crops.
And because of their stability in strong winds, the ornithopter drone could also be used to chase birds away from airports, reducing the risk of them getting sucked into jet engines.
At present, there are no commercialized ornithopters being used for surveillance, but this could all change thanks to the team’s breakthrough.
The light weight and the slow beating wings of the ornithopter poses less danger to the public in the event of a crash.
It could thus be used for crowd and traffic monitoring, information gathering and surveying forests and wildlife with the help of additional cameras and electronics.
Image and content: University of South Australia