The Air Force Office of Scientific research awarded a $6 million grant to an international team of engineers and biologists to help create a new type of unmanned aircraft with transforming wings.
Dr. Daniel Inman, an aerospace engineering professor from the Univ. of Michigan, serves as the head of the project. Researchers from Stanford and the University of California, Los Angeles, will take charge of other aspects of this program too.
The flying abilities of birds will be the inspiration for this new plane component, according to the University of Michigan’s official announcement.
Here’s how this project will break down, explains the University’s press release. The biologists will use tools to gage air pressure disturbances around birds as they fly, attach cameras to larger species like eagles to watch how they take off and navigate obstacles mid-flight, and explore wing muscle movements to learn how they control the shape of the appendage.
Next, the engineering group will search for materials that could lay the ground work for these flexible wings. 3D printing could yield a construct that closely resembles the biological structure of the wings, but materials that respond to stimuli like electrical currents could be explored to assist in malleability.
Finally, another contingent of engineers will create a system imitating brain neurons and muscle nerves in order to send airflow and pressure data back to the computer.
Results from this research could yield a lighter, faster aircraft.
No deadline has been set, but the video below could show what the concept will look like.