University of South Australia researchers have drawn inspiration from a 300-million-year-old superior flying machine, “the dragonfly”, to show why future wing-flapping drones will probably resemble the insect in shape, wings and gearing. Their findings have been published in the journal Drones.
A team of PhD students led by UniSA Professor of Sensor Systems, Javaan Chahl, spent part of the 2020 COVID-19 lockdown designing and testing key parts of a dragonfly-inspired drone that might match the insect’s extraordinary skills in hovering, cruising and aerobatics.
Because intact dragonflies are notoriously difficult to capture, the researchers developed an optical technique to photograph the wing geometry of 75 different dragonfly (Odonata) species from glass display cases in museum collections.
In a world first experiment, they reconstructed 3D images of the wings, comparing differences between the species. Describing the dragonfly as the “apex insect flyer,” Prof Chahl says numerous engineering lessons can be learned from its mastery in the air.
Credit: University of South Australia
“Dragonflies are supremely efficient in all areas of flying. They need to be. After emerging from under water until their death (up to six months), male dragonflies are involved in perpetual, dangerous combat against male rivals. Mating requires an aerial pursuit of females and they are constantly avoiding predators. Their flying abilities have evolved over millions of years to ensure they survive,” Prof Chahl says.
“They can turn quickly at high speeds and take off while carrying more than three times their own body weight. They are also one of nature’s most effective predators, targeting, chasing and capturing their prey with a 95 percent success rate.” he added further.
The researchers believe a dragonfly lookalike drone could do many jobs, including collecting and delivering awkward, unbalanced loads, safely operating near people, exploring delicate natural environments and executing long surveillance missions.