Hints from Nature: Four Ways Animals could Guide the Design of Advanced Vehicles

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

2:30 pm - 3:45pm

115 Goodwin Hall - VT Campus

Dr. Daniel Quinn
Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering
University of Virginia


The morphologies, kinematics, and sensing strategies of animals can inspire new design concepts for advanced underwater and aerial vehicles. Four aspects of bio-inspired propulsion are discussed here: flexibility, near-boundary swimming, head stabilization, and tuned sensing. Experimental work on flexible propulsors shows that swimming efficiency depends on wake vortex timing and boundary layer attachment, but also on fluid-structure resonance. As a result, flexible vehicles or animals could potentially improve their performance by tracking their resonance properties. Flying near the ground is known to increase lift-to-drag ratios; similarly, bio-inspired propulsors were found to produce more thrust with no loss in efficiency when swimming near a solid boundary. This ``dynamic ground effect'' suggests that bio-inspired vehicles and animals could save energy by capitalizing on near-boundary swimming. Passive head stabilization in flying birds is shown to be an effective strategy for reducing blur and jitter in the visual field. Animals and vehicles could thus improve their vision by tuning the stiffness properties of their head-neck system. Finally, some mechanoreceptors in insects and birds are tuned to particular frequencies. A closed-loop turbulence controller is shown to converge faster when using frugal sampling modeled after this tuned sensor approach.


Dr. Quinn is a new faculty member at the University of Virginia. He graduated from Princeton University in 2015 after working on bio-inspired propulsion in the Hydrodynamics Lab with Professor Lex Smits. He also spent time as a Visiting Fellow at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, researching the propulsive strategies of rays and skates. After receiving his PhD, Quinn became a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Bio-Inspired Research and Design group at Stanford University, studying the stability characteristics of birds flying in turbulent gusts. This year, Quinn joined the faculty at the University of Virginia, where he will continue researching bio-inspired autonomous vehicles. He is a member of the UVA Link Lab, a group of researchers studying Cyber-Physical Systems – particularly autonomous vehicles, body sensor networks, and smart homes.


Spring 2018 force-add survey opens January 5.


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