Bio-inspired distributed sensing for aerial robotic flight control

Shane Windsor, PhD
Associate Professor
University of Bristol, UK
Research interests
Bird flight aerodynamics and control, Bio-inspired Unmanned Air Vehicles, Aerodynamic measurement and modelling

Birds, bats and insects all have force and flow sensors distributed over the surfaces of their wings and these are thought to play a key role in their agile flight behaviour. Inspired by this we have been developing a series of aerial robots with distributed arrays of strain and pressure sensors on their wings. We have used wind tunnel and free flight testing to explore how this type of sensory information can be incorporated into flight control systems. Our studies have found that these arrays can give information on many different aspects of how the wing is interacting with the air around it, including measurements of lift and drag distributions, flow separation and reattachment. Using machine learning approaches we have then been able to incorporate this information into flight control systems to enable to robots to operate in non-linear flight regimes such as holding on the edge of stall and using dynamic effects to improve flight performance. We are currently extending this work developing morphing wing bird-inspired robots.

Dr Windsor is Associate Professor of Bio-Inspired Aerodynamics in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Bristol, where he leads the Bio-Inspired Flight Lab. Over his academic career at the Universities of Auckland, Oxford and Bristol, Dr Windsor has researched the biomechanics of birds, bats, insects, fish and single cells. Using inspiration from these biological systems he is involved in the development of bio-inspired technologies for aerospace, with a particular focus on uncrewed air vehicles. Dr Windsor currently leads the UKRI Trustworthy Autonomous Systems Node in Functionality based at the Bristol Robotics Lab exploring the development and real world use considerations for adaptive autonomous systems.