Researchers at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tec) in the US are studying bats' wings to develop small flying vehicles.
In the study of fruit bat wings, scientists used experimental measurements of the movements of bats' wings in real flight and analysis software to test the relationship between wing motion and airflow.
"Bats are very agile and can change their flight path very quickly - showing high maneuverability for mid-flight prey capture, so it's of interest to know how they do this," said Danesh Tafti, professor mechanical engineering, Virginia Tech.
The research focused on how bat wings manipulate wing motion to maximise the forces generated by the wing. They now want to apply that knowledge to create 'micro air vehicles', which could be used in the F&B industry.
Anthony Del Viscio, vice president sales, Eagle Packaging Machinery, told FoodProductionDaily.com technology like this is the future for the whole packaging industry.
“Robots and automation are a growth area for Eagle, as customers compete world-wide and need to be as efficient as possible with the least amount of labor touching their process,” he said.
Not practical enough
But Harry Norman, CEO, Olympus Automation, disagreed.
"I really don't think there is a practical application for flying robots inside a food factory. Imagine if a robot ended up in the food, it would be a total disaster," he said.
"There could be a use for flying robots further downstream on farms for quality checks and food security. The colour and size of olives is checked to ensure the final product matches consumers requirements.
“Flying robots could improve quality checks by taking samples from a much wider area and quickly delivering to a central lab. Food security could be enhanced by being able to easily monitor farmland if the flying robots were fitted with cameras."
Physics of Fluids journal
The report, published in the journal Physics of Fluids , found bats increase the area of the wing by about 30% to maximise favourable forces during the downward movement of the wing.
It decreases the area by a similar amount on the way up to minimise unfavourable forces.
Kamal Viswanath, research engineer, US Naval Research Lab's laboratories for computational physics and fluid dynamics, said the force coefficients generated by the wing are ‘about two to three times greater than a static airfoil wing used for large airplanes’.
The researchers are now exploring ways to deconstruct the complex motion of the bat wing into simpler motions, to make a bat-inspired flying robot, said Viswanath.