The secret to the flight of the hummingbird and other tiny birds and insects lies in the looping, swirling flow of air, called a vortex, that their flapping wings create.
These aerodynamically unconventional flows are the inspiration behind new research by a UB faculty member who hopes to understand the nature of the three-dimensional, vortex-formation process so it can be used in intelligence applications.
The research is motivated by the need to gather real-time intelligence in particularly challenging environments, such as remote caves and tunnels or complex building corridors in cities—none of which can be penetrated easily by conventional, unmanned aircraft or spy satellites. One solution being explored is the design of tiny, flying surveillance devices called micro-air vehicles that are bio-inspired, based on lessons drawn from the behavior of insects and birds.
“In surveillance applications, these small, autonomous or remote-controlled vehicles would be ideal because they would be able to penetrate these complex kinds of terrain and gather first-hand, real-time intelligence,” says Matthew Ringuette, assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. He recently received an award to do the research from the Young Investigator Research Program in the Air Force Office of Scientific Research.