Bats and crickets have been using small hairs to sense environmental changes for 100’s of years, let’s see why - Armed with Science
Bug Out: Air Force designs flying systems with the help of insects
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By Marisa Alia-Novobilski, Air Force Research Laboratory
Nature has inspired scientific and engineering innovations for hundreds of years. An apple falling from a tree inspired Isaac Newton to define the laws of gravity. The burdock burrs clinging to the skin of his hunting dog lead to Swiss engineer Georges de Mestral's invention of Velcro. The ability of the kingfisher to slice through water to catch prey inspired the redesign of the high-speed Japanese Bullet Train, enabling it to exit tunnels quietly at a speed ten percent faster than predecessors.
For scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory, it is the hairs on bats and crickets that inspired the creation of artificial hair sensors, destined to change the course of agile flight.
"Ever notice how a cricket might stop chirping when you walk into a room? It's because it detects a big air disturbance and does not know if you are a friend or a foe," said Dr. Jeff Baur, a principal engineer in the Structural Materials Division, Materials and Manufacturing Directorate. "Nature has given bats and crickets these fine hairs that they use to sense changes in their environment. We hypothesized that if we could engineer similar hairs at the surface of an aircraft, we could enable an agile flight system that can detect air changes and 'fly by feel'."
Thus, a multi-directorate Artificial Hair Sensor team funded by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research was started to develop an innovative, adaptive, multifunctional structure for Air Force systems. Beginning in the lab as a 'proof of concept' experiment, the artificial hair sensors have gained international interest, with aerospace companies and researchers eager to integrate these into their wind-tunnel models and flying systems.
Moreover, the research has also resulted in three patent applications based on the research activity—a highlight for scientific research in any field.
U.S. Air Force video
"We're providing new insights and non-traditional outlets for long-term (AFRL) research. The project has moved to the point where we are making these sensors, evaluating them in the wind-tunnel within AFRL and distributing them to collaborators across the globe to try them out in different concepts. It's exciting," said Baur.
For the Air Force, the need to understand ambient air data and its effects on aircraft performance, navigation and more has become more critical as...