Bio-inspired Distributed Strain and Airflow Sensing for Small Unmanned Air Vehicle Flight Control

Sergio A. Araujo-Estrada, Francis Salama, Colin Greatwood, Kieran Wood, Thomas Richardson, Shane Windsor

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Flying animals such as birds, bats and insects all have extensive arrays of sensory organs distributed in their wings which provide them with detailed information about the airflow over their wings and the forces generated by this airflow. Using two small modified unmanned air vehicle platforms (UAVs), one with a distributed array of 12 strain gauge sensors and one with a chord-wise array of 4 pressure sensors, we have examined the distribution of the strain and air pressure signals over the UAV wings in relation to flight conditions, including wind tunnel testing, indoor free flight and outdoor free flight. We have also characterised the signals provided by controlled gusts and natural turbulence. These sensors were then successfully used to control roll motions in the case of the strain sensor platform and pitch motions in the case of the pressure sensor platform. These results suggest that distributed mechanosensing and airflow sensing both offer advantages beyond traditional flight control based on rigid body state estimation using inertial sensing. These advantages include stall detection, gust alleviation and model-free measurement of aerodynamic forces. These advantages are likely to be important in the development of future aircraft with increasing numbers of degrees of freedom both through flexibility and active morphing.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAIAA Guidance, Navigation, and Control Conference, 2017
Publication statusPublished - 9 Jan 2017


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