UAV bio-inspired sensing

Bio-inspired UAV flight control

Small unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) have the potential to dramatically change current practices in many areas such as, search and rescue, surveillance, and environmental monitoring. Currently the utility of these systems is limited by their operational endurance and their inability to operate in strong turbulent winds, especially those that often occur in urban environments. Animals such as birds, bats and insects are adapted to be able to fly in these conditions and actually use them to their advantage to minimize their energy output. We are using inspiration from these biological flyers to develop technologies to improve UAV flight performance.

One current focus of our research is the use of distributed arrays of force and flow sensors on the wings of UAVs to enable them to sense how the aircraft is interacting with the air around it. This approach is inspired by similar sensor arrays found in birds, bats and insects for air-flow sensing, as well as the water-flow sensing systems of fish. The sensory information available from distributed sensor arrays offers the potential to greatly improve the agility and robustness of autonomous fliers by giving them the ability to sense the aerial environment they are operating in and respond more rapidly and appropriately. This is particularly the case for next generation vehicles with morphing wings, where each part of the wing can be tailored to the local flow conditions.

We are currently developing small fixed wing experimental aircraft with arrays of force and flow sensors in order explore the sensory information available from these types of sensors. Through wind tunnel testing and outdoor flight testing we are exploring how these types of sensors can be used in flight control systems and what advantages this offers.

Lab members

  • Sergio Araujo-Estrada


  • Dr Kieran Wood, University of Bristol
  • Dr Tom Richardson, University of Bristol
Unmanned air vehicle with flow sensors in wing in wind tunnel
Unmanned air vehicle with flow sensors in wing flying outdoors
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