The University of Michigan’s engineers and biologists have been bird watching. They have been doing this with the intention of designing aircraft according to how birds fly, fantasizing about ditching the stiff-winged airplane.
The team was given $6 million from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research to create what is being called the “most detailed analysis of bird flight ever” by Product Design & Development. The leader of the researchers is a gentleman named Daniel Inman. He is a professor of aerospace engineering at the university, who has recruited some UCLA students to assist with the endeavour.
Inman said: “With new materials, advanced sensing and control techniques, and inventive methods for observance birds in flight, our team will begin to bring avian efficiency and agility to aircraft.”
Inman has shown off the new technology the researchers have been working on that would affect flight control in the future.
In the video (see below) Inman shows a bending material that curves upwards. He explains that “the thing that makes this contouring possible is a thing called macro fibre composite actuators.”
To put it more plainly, Inman says the structure and the actuation device “are all one thing”. As a result, the material is lighter and can do “unusual maneuvers like a bird can do.”
According to the Daily Mail, the group are confident they could possibly 3-D print structures that reflect the bone structures in bird’s wings. However, Inman believes due to the FAA, this kind of technology they are working on will take at least another decade to be put into aircraft.
Another team of researchers are in charge of installing certain software into the different areas of the aircraft that would process data that can be perused and learned from.
Yong Chen, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UCLA said: “A biological network can process signals at a speed comparable to a supercomputer while weighing only one millionth as much and consuming one millionth the power.”