Airplane passengers have a terrific experience with turbulent flights. That’s why researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia have developed a new system that can end stomach-lurching bumpy rides and reduce flight delays.
This new sensor system for aircrafts replicates the way feathers help birds detect disturbances in the air and the result is a system that detects turbulence before hand and thus maintains a smoother flight. The technology could also be applied to regular aircraft.
In general, unmanned micro air vehicles reduce the severity of turbulence via inertial based sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers. The problem with these sensors is they only detect when the aircraft is already in turbulence-induced motion – they’re reactive, not proactive.
Birds, however, are able to detect turbulence before it buffets their flight, allowing them to alter their flight in order to counteract it. Receptors known as Herbst corpuscles are located near the feather follicles and these help the birds to fly gracefully rather than bouncing around in turbulent air.
The RMIT team headed by Prof. Simon Watkins, placed Herbst corpuscle-inspired sensitive instruments on a fixed-wing MAV. Those sensors not only detected the disturbances from wind gusts on the leading parts of the wing but also detected gusts slightly ahead of the wing. This would give the rest of the aircraft a chance to adjust to the oncoming gust before it has chance to buffet the plane.
At the moment, RMIT’s e bird-inspired system performs well with small, lightweight planes, which experience severe turbulence. But Watkins said the technology could be tweaked to perform with larger and faster aircraft.
The researchers have published their work in the journal Progress in Aerospace Sciences.