New fluid dynamics provide the flying robotics of the future

The first professional robotic birds – like UT and Clear Flight Solutions’ Robird®-  have been in the air for a few years now. Yet, the physics of the bird’s flight is not yet completely clear. “We only had some rough explanations based on some experimental data”, says Prof.Dr.Ir. Stefano Stramigioli. Thanks to his work, we are now on the way to a better understanding of the complex physics surrounding wings, bringing us one step closer to robotic birds, that take off, fly and land like real birds.

Leonardo da Vinci dreamed of machines that could fly as easily as birds. Mimicking the movements of birds’ wings is extremely complicated. The Robird®, with its flapping wings, was already a major step forward. Unfortunately, this was still nowhere near a realistic bird. In 2018, Stramigioli received an ERC Advanced Grant of 2.8 million euros to further understand and develop robotic birds.

Theoretical insights

The first novelty the researchers presented was an understanding of the precise role of advection in the Navier-Stokes equations, which are used to, for example, forecast the weather but also model the complex fluid dynamics of aeroplanes. Using the so-called port-Hamiltonian model, they found an elegant description, that resulted in a two-part paper in the Journal of Geometry and Physics. “The two publications were quickly accepted and led to an invitation from the Editor in Chief of the journal Physics of Fluids to submit our future work to the journal”, says Stramigioli.

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