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Futuristic Micro Aerial Vehicle: Butterfly Inspired Research at UAH

A group photo of The Butterfly Team

Dr. Chang-kwon Kang

A group photo of The Butterfly Team

Kabilan Nedunchezian, Staff Writer

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Micro-aerial vehicles are the future in the field of surveillance and small payload delivery. The current technological advancement is inclined towards the design of fixed wings with motorized propellers (similar to small toy drones). However, a research team at The University of Alabama in Huntsville cleverly named “The Butterfly Team” is almost solely focused on the simulation of flapping wing motion (wing motion like that of birds and insects) and the study of butterfly flight patterns. The advisor of the team Dr. Chang-kwon Kang says:

 

“Monarch butterflies are amazing fliers that can travel 4,000 kilometers during their annual migration, the longest among insects. The physical mechanisms behind their long-range journey are unknown. Our team uses a unique experimental method, complemented by high-fidelity solutions to understand Monarch’s intriguing flight.”

 

The monarch butterfly is the main inspiration for the team. It has a quite amazing capability to migrate from southern Canada and northern parts of United States to Mexico. It is the only insect species which migrates over 2500 miles to move into a warmer climate. It is widely accepted that the purpose of the migration south is to move into a warmer habitat for hibernation and migrate back north for the abundant amount of larval food. This migration is one of the most astounding natural phenomena in the world.

 

The team uses a cutting-edge technology of motion capture to track the flight pattern and wing motion of the monarch butterfly. This is done in a constrained space in their lab with live butterflies using a high resolution VICON camera system. Markers, reflective and adhesive shiny paper, are attached to the body and wings of the butterfly. The camera system is self-positioning; it automatically calibrates and determines the relative position between the camera and the position of the markers for an interval of time. The flight pattern and wing motion are recorded, analyzed, and studied. It is also used to compare to the results obtained from the simulation done in house. Both computational and analytical studies are done extensively in this lab.

 

“The Butterfly Team” is not constrained just to the work on the monarch butterfly. They are also leading in works on insects like the bumblebee, cicada, fruit fly, etc. and some robotic flappers too. Lift, drag, acoustics, and various aerodynamic forces are studied on these insect wings, and then analyzed for any interesting flow features in the field.

 

They are also conducting research on the hovering stability of bumblebees and investigating how bumblebees respond to various inputs and various environments, including whether flapping wing designs would allow us to fly on the planet Mars. Comparisons of the computational models, namely a Quasi-Steady model, a Navier-Stokes model for 2D simulations, and a Navier-Stokes model for 3D simulations is also performed on the wings of fruit flies. This is done to find the model with good accuracy to approximate flight and hovering for a variety of kinematics. The effects of higher order curvature on the aeroelastic response of a cantilever beam, which is also applicable to many areas of fluid-structure-interaction such as flapping wings in bio-locomotion, is studied too.

 

Their research paints the main picture of the diverse natural flight phenomenon of various insects whose biology is flawlessly designed by nature.

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Futuristic Micro Aerial Vehicle: Butterfly Inspired Research at UAH