Artificial Muscles To Power UAV Drone Wings
Membrane wings that work like artificial muscles have been tested in-flight. This advance will make possible a new breed of unmanned Micro Air Vehicles (MAVs) that have improved aerodynamic properties, can fly over long distances and are more economical to run.
The wings change shape in response to the forces they experience like bat wings and have no mechanical parts.
The unique design of the wings incorporates electro-active polymers that make the wings stiffen and relax in response to an applied voltage and further enhances their performance.
By changing the voltage input, the shape of the electroactive membrane and therefore aerodynamic characteristics can be altered during flight. The proof of concept wing will eventually enable flight over much longer distances than currently possible.
The wings have been developed through a unique combination of hands-on experimental work at the University of Southampton and computational research at Imperial College London, with funding from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). The United States Air Force, through their European Office of Aerospace Research and Development (EOARD), provided additional support.
In his 1898 masterpiece War of the Worlds, HG Wells described what he called quasi-muscles (sham musculature):
And while upon this matter of detail, it is remarkable that the long leverages of their machines are in most cases actuated by a sort of sham musculature of the disks in an elastic sheath; these disks become polarised and drawn closely and powerfully together when traversed by a current of electricity. In this way the curious parallelism to animal motions, which was so striking and disturbing to the human beholder, was attained. Such quasi-muscles abounded in the crablike handling-machine which, on my first peeping out of the slit, I watched unpacking the cylinder.
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