Soaring towards greater UAV endurance using urban updrafts


April 6, 2014

Dr Reece Clothier with a prototype of a bio-inspired unmanned aircraft, under development at RMIT

Dr Reece Clothier with a prototype of a bio-inspired unmanned aircraft, under development at RMIT

Most people who have cast their eyes skyward – or seen a nature documentary or two – will have seen lazily circling birds soaring to greater heights without flapping their wings. These soaring birds are catching a ride on rising air currents to save energy, and now researchers at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, are aiming to develop bio-inspired UAVs capable of doing the same thing.

Working in collaboration with the Australian Department of Defence's Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), the RMIT research team is aiming to develop a small fixed-wing unmanned aircraft that is able to autonomously take advantage of rising air currents around buildings to save energy and improve endurance.

"Birds make soaring look easy, but when we try to mimic what they know by instinct, we realize just how far advanced nature is in its designs," says Dr Reece Clothier, who is the lead researcher on the project.

Although the long-term goal is to design a soaring UAV, the researchers will first focus on proving the feasibility of "urban" soaring. This will involve the use of real-time wind-sensing systems and complex flow models to identify the location of possible updrafts around large buildings.

"Small aircraft used for communications relay or surveillance and reconnaissance could greatly benefit by having a means of exploiting naturally occurring updrafts and avoiding the deleterious effects of turbulence in urban environments," says Dr Jennifer Palmer, a Senior Research Scientist in the Aerospace Division of DSTO.

Source: RMIT

About the Author
Darren Quick Darren's love of technology started in primary school with a Nintendo Game & Watch Donkey Kong (still functioning) and a Commodore VIC 20 computer (not still functioning). In high school he upgraded to a 286 PC, and he's been following Moore's law ever since. This love of technology continued through a number of university courses and crappy jobs until 2008, when his interests found a home at Gizmag. All articles by Darren Quick

Strangely there is no mention of gliders in this article, which utilise thermals, as a means to gain height. They have instrumentation which shows rising air currents.

David Clarke

Great. That's what we need, more surveillance. These people forget that humans want to fly for fun, in person.

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