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Military microdrones that can flap their wings and change their wingbeat mid-flight could soon be coming to a future battlespace.
The US Air Force is developing a mini air vehicle (MAV) that can imitate either insect or bird flight and has the ability to change velocity without the support of a high-powered computer.
The prototype built by AFRL, the US Air Force’s elite research lab, and Airion Health is based on a patent signed in 2014 to create maneuverable wings for unmanned aircraft.
“Controllable forces would be generated by the wings based on position and velocity profiles, resulting in time-varying wing upstrokes and downstrokes, which, at times, may be asymmetrical,” the lab’s release states.
The microdrone could be used for surveillance in the field or over military bases; or to stake out targets before personnel or other aircraft get to the battlefield. The latter mission has become a major focus for the Defense Department as it plans for a future conflict with a near-peer competitor.
The mini-drone will be remote-controlled, Air Force officials said, giving it the ability to change paths based on the user’s needs. According to the patent, the service is looking for a drone that has only two actuators, which enable mechanical movement, while offering six degrees of flight, meaning it can change position forward or backward, up or down, and left or right.
From a commercial standpoint, drones with such range can maneuver into small, tight spaces such as tunnels or into larger machinery for inspection.
This effort was made possible by the Office of Research and Technology Applications at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, which is also home to the research lab, according to military.com.