Biological Inspiration for Agile Autonomous Air Vehicles
AIR FORCE RESEARCH LAB EGLIN AFB FL MUNITIONS DIRECTORATE
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The ease with which flying insects, birds and bats negotiate confined, obstacle-cluttered airspace has long inspired us with visions of human-designed aerial machines with similar performance. Flying animals exhibit capabilities for aerial acrobatics, insensitivity to wind gusts, avoiding collision with or intercepting fixed and moving objects, landing and take off from small perches, and numerous other feats of flight agility that are beyond those of human-engineered vehicles. Although we are naturally tempted to look to biological organisms for inspiration or as design templates, the performance of the resulting bio-inspired or biomimetic engineered devices rarely approaches that of the living organisms. Among several possible reasons for this, two important issues motivate and provide a focus for this paper it is nearly impossible to correlate biological processes with engineering design principles biological systems possess sensing-computation-actuation response architectures and processes that appear to differ from those of engineered systems in fundamental ways, those differences are poorly understood and their importance little appreciated. These issues provide rich opportunities for research to produce genuine advancements in our understanding of biological and artificial autonomy. The research will necessarily involve biologists, engineers, and mathematicians. As with any research endeavor involving multiple mature disciplines, long term research collaborations are necessary for establishing the foundation of fundamentally new science. Unfortunately, without an objective understanding of these two issues and their implications for guiding autonomous air vehicle research and development, the real promise for biology-inspired or biomimetic concepts to achieve breakthroughs in vehicle capabilities may remain an elusive dream.
- Pilotless Aircraft