Hawk Moth with motion capture reflectors

Biomimetic Aerodynamics

Miniaturization in electronics and mechanical design has allowed manmade machines to operate in environments not previously thought possible. Organisms in nature navigate, compete and thrive in a variety of difficult environments. The Tactical Robotics team at Physical Sciences, rather than reinventing the wheel, has embraced the lessons of nature. Designs are inspired by the knowledge of what is possible in nature and then enabled by studying how nature has solved difficult problems where physics and mechanics are poorly understood. Initially, PSI proposed that small flying robots could be more effective if the robots put less of an emphasis on avoiding hard-to-see obstacles, such as wires branches and twigs and focused more on how to recover from collisions and remain airborne. Through the study of insects such as the Hawk Moth, PSI was able to create what was, at the time, the smallest, fastest reacting UAV autopilot and a family of small flying robots that displayed flight performance only seen in nature. These designs finally lead to the InstantEye small UAS which through its agility has the ability to operate in all weather and high winds. Through support from the US Army Research Laboratory, research continues on how to improve the wind performance of small UAVs. This research is focusing on the wing structures and flow physics that allow both insects and birds to thrive in an often turbulent environment. The study of insects and bird wing structures and flight kinematics is also offering the potential to improve flight efficiency and reduce the audible signature of small flying robots. The lessons being leaned from insects and birds today at PSI will enable the next generation of truly inspiring small robots for public safety or tactical missions.