Wissa’s avian-inspired UAV work aids Toyota energy project

4/10/2020

Stef Anderson

Toyota representatives with Wissa and her research group in the BAM Lab.
Toyota representatives with Wissa and her research group in the BAM Lab.
Representatives from Toyota were on campus last month to visit MechSE Assistant Professor Aimy Wissa’s Bio-inspired Adaptive Morphology (BAM) Laboratory to discuss an ongoing project. Toyota is interested in Wissa’s current research on avian-inspired anti-stall devices and how they can improve the maneuverability and control authority of unconventional unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).

Wissa’s lab has developed anti-stall deployable devices inspired by birds’ alula and covert feathers. The alula is a set of two to six feathers near the leading edge of a bird’s wing. Coverts are the set of feathers that help provide the overall wing contour. When deployed, both the coverts and the alula help birds execute low-speed and high-angle-of-attack maneuvers by generating lift and mitigating stall.

Wissa's graduate students talk to Toyota representatives about their UAV work inspired by birds' feathers.
Wissa's graduate students talk to Toyota representatives about their UAV work inspired by birds' feathers.
Toyota believes Wissa’s work with avian-inspired anti-stall devices could be applied to its Mothership project—for which they intend to use large tethered kites to harvest energy from the westerly jet stream, an air current 10km above the ground generated by the heat transfer between the tropics and the poles. The company hopes this can be a solution for future energy and environmental challenges, especially in Japan.

One particular issue they have encountered with their project is yaw oscillations. Because the kites operate similarly to a tailless aircraft, they have inherent instability as they lack the yaw control that a plane’s vertical tail would typically provide. BAM’s bio-inspired flow control devices could offer the stability necessary to control and maintain low-speed flight.