The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has announced a new initiative to support scientific research for the development of drones that fly like bats and insects.
The Department of Defense (DoD) introduced the Defense Enterprise Science Initiative (DESI), “a new pilot program that supports university-industry collaboration on use-inspired basic research,” says the DoD.
“…DESI incentivizes use-inspired basic research, or a scientific study directed toward increasing fundamental knowledge and understanding in the context of end-use applications. Projects funded by DESI will bring together university and industry teams with the aim of discovering novel solutions to challenging defense and national security problems. ”
The program offers significant funding for projects – between $1.5 and $6 million – as well as a development path to the commercial markets. One of the four topics that DESI has identified for this year’s applicants is “highly-maneuverable autonomous UAV” which model behavior found in the natural world.
“The biological study of agile organisms such as bats and flying insects has yielded new insights into complex flight kinematics of systems with a large number of degrees of freedom, and the use of multi-functional flight surface materials,” says the announcement. “Progress in sensors, optimization and miniaturization of processors, and advances in flight control algorithms have also made it feasible to enable real-time autonomy in a miniature robotic system. As a result of these advances, there exists a possibility of creating autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have significant improvements in maneuverability, survivability and stealth over traditional quadcopter or fixed wing designs,” says the grant announcement.
The desired “new paradigms for autonomous flight,” could result in high endurance drones that could maneuver around obstacles without pilot intervention, and potentially fly in swarms, communicating with each other autonomously.
Researchers from MIT are already working on drones that mimic the behavior – and speed – of insects. Modeling not only the flight but the communications methods of bats and insects could be the next step for drone development.