Bat flight model can inspire smarter, nimbler drones

February 28, 2019 by Lou Corpuz-Bosshart, University of British Columbia
When a bat wing flaps, it forms swirling masses of air known as vortex rings. Credit: University of British Columbia

Bats are among nature's best flyers—able to fly for long periods of time, maneouvre in mid-air with pinpoint precision and get into some very tight spaces. However, scientists have not fully understood exactly how bats manage to fly so well, until now.

Engineers at the University of British Columbia have captured the full complexity of bat flight in a three-dimensional computer model for the first time, potentially inspiring the future design of better drones and other aerial vehicles.

Researchers built a simple bat out of aluminum and exposed it to the currents in a to mimic the flapping, bending and twisting motion of a bat in flight. By tracking and measuring the impact of these movements on turbulent air flows and aeromechanical forces around the wing, they were able to build a complete model of bat flight.

The computer model, described in Computers & Fluids, is the first to comprehensively explain the flapping flight of bats in terms of the wing's geometry in motion, says Rajeev Jaiman, the study's senior author and a professor of mechanical engineering at UBC.

"Previous numerical models of bat flapping flight were too simplified or incomplete to be of real practical benefit," he added.

Bat wings are highly unique because they contain multiple joints and stretchable membranes that allow them to change shape and return to their original form countless times when they fly, explained Jaiman.

"While this wing morphing makes bat flight much more complicated compared to bird , it also makes bats the efficient flying machines that they are," he said.

The research team, which includes engineers from the National University of Singapore, plans to develop a physical bat next, in collaboration with researchers at Brown University.

"We'll be working to further optimize the flapping motion," said Jaiman. "Once this is in place, we'll have a foundation for designing efficient, agile, automated – think smart drones that can fly as a flock and serve as tools for business or for emergency response."

Explore further: Unique study shows how bats manoeuvre

More information: G. Li et al. A novel 3D variational aeroelastic framework for flexible multibody dynamics: Application to bat-like flapping dynamics, Computers & Fluids (2018). DOI: 10.1016/j.compfluid.2018.11.013

Related Stories

Unique study shows how bats manoeuvre

November 8, 2018

For the first time, researchers have succeeded in directly measuring the aerodynamics of flying animals as they manoeuvre in the air. Previously, the upstroke of the wings was considered relatively insignificant compared ...

Bats inspire 'micro air vehicle' designs

February 18, 2014

By exploring how creatures in nature are able to fly by flapping their wings, Virginia Tech researchers hope to apply that knowledge toward designing small flying vehicles known as "micro air vehicles" with flapping wings.

Video: feathers not included

October 25, 2018

Inspired by the beauty and flying ability of birds, Leonardo da Vinci strived centuries ago to create a human-powered flapping-wing flying machine. But his designs, which da Vinci explored in his Codex on the Flight of Birds, ...

Engineers study hovering bats and hummingbirds in Costa Rica

September 26, 2018

Each sunrise in Las Cruces, Costa Rica, River Ingersoll's field team trekked into the jungle to put the finishing touches on nearly invisible nets. A graduate student in the lab of David Lentink, assistant professor of mechanical ...

Winging it: How do bats out-maneuver their prey?

July 5, 2017

Bats catch food 'on the wing' without touching the ground, but how do they do it? A new study by Per Henningsson at Lund University, Sweden is the first of its kind to analyse the aerodynamics of bats performing manoeuvers ...

Recommended for you

Fish-inspired material changes color using nanocolumns

March 20, 2019

Inspired by the flashing colors of the neon tetra fish, researchers have developed a technique for changing the color of a material by manipulating the orientation of nanostructured columns in the material.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.