Research ArticleBIOMIMETICS

A bioinspired Separated Flow wing provides turbulence resilience and aerodynamic efficiency for miniature drones

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Science Robotics  29 Jan 2020:
Vol. 5, Issue 38, eaay8533
DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.aay8533

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Abstract

Small-scale drones have enough sensing and computing power to find use across a growing number of applications. However, flying in the low–Reynolds number regime remains challenging. High sensitivity to atmospheric turbulence compromises vehicle stability and control, and low aerodynamic efficiency limits flight duration. Conventional wing designs have thus far failed to address these two deficiencies simultaneously. Here, we draw inspiration from nature’s small flyers to design a wing with lift generation robust to gusts and freestream turbulence without sacrificing aerodynamic efficiency. This performance is achieved by forcing flow separation at the airfoil leading edge. Water and wind tunnel measurements are used to demonstrate the working principle and aerodynamic performance of the wing, showing a substantial reduction in the sensitivity of lift force production to freestream turbulence, as compared with the performance of an Eppler E423 low–Reynolds number wing. The minimum cruise power of a custom-built 104-gram fixed-wing drone equipped with the Separated Flow wing was measured in the wind tunnel indicating an upper limit for the flight time of 170 minutes, which is about four times higher than comparable existing fixed-wing drones. In addition, we present scaling guidelines and outline future design and manufacturing challenges.

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