Bat-inspired morphing drone takes wing

You may have read about robotic whiskers inspired by seals and turbine-silencing coatings, thanks to owls. Now, bats are the latest inspiration from nature, producing a new drone that can change its wings' shape. Belinda Smith reports.

Bats are able to change the shape of their wings – and now a drone can too. – VICTOR HABBICK VISIONS / getty images

Move over Batman ... BatMAV is around the corner.

A new British micro air vehicle (MAV) has membrane wings that can morph mid-flight – just like a bat.

The drone's wings, designed and built by scientists at the UK's Imperial College and Southampton University, stiffen and relax thanks to a network of electricity-responsive plastics.

All that's required to shape the wings' shape quickly is voltage.

Aeronautics engineer Rafael Palacios and one of the MAV's inventors said bat wings have three key characteristics that make them attractive to drone researchers: they flap, have sail-like membranes which can passively change shape with the wind and can be actively controlled by the integrated skeletal "fingers" .

"We focused on this last one and looked for an engineering solution that would offer the same behaviour – but without trying to replicate a wing skeleton with mechanical parts, which would be a non-starter," he told The Guardian.

They started from scratch: a mathematical model spawned software, and a half-metre-wide protoype built.

After testing in an air tunnel, the researchers took it outside. Watch the drone land, take off and skim along the ocean:

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