The Bee Blade: A Novel Bio-Inspired Blade Concept for Drones

The Bee Blade: A Novel Bio-Inspired Blade Concept for Drones


Every day, drones are flown into all sorts of objects, from buildings, to trees, to other people, and even the pilot themselves. Even worse, drone blades are incredibly powerful, and have the ability to significantly injure people. Researchers at Aalborg University in Denmark moved a spinning drone propeller at 33 miles per hour into a piece of raw pork roast, demonstrating what could happen if someone lost control of their drone and it hit a person, propeller spinning. There must be a safer and better way to fly drones. Introducing, the Bee Blade! The Bee Blade is a new type of blade for drones and other unmanned aerial systems, and is inspired by the biomechanical strategies for mitigating collision damage found in insect wings. The wings of many insects accumulate considerable wear and tear during their lifespan, and this irreversible structural damage can impose significant costs on insect flight performance and survivability. Wing wear in foraging bumblebees is caused by inadvertent, repeated collisions with vegetation during flight and suggests the possibility that insect wings may display biomechanical adaptations to mitigate the damage in collisions. Wing area loss associated with wear and tear has been found to reduce vertical acceleration and predation success in dragonflies, and alter forging behavior in bees. It is hypothesized that wing area loss reduces maneuverability, and thus increases predation risk. In a previous study, scientists discovered that wing area loss in foraging bees was caused primarily by wing collisions with vegetation as the bees moved in and around floral patches. The wings accidentally collided with vegetation relatively often–one strike per second on average. The wings of many flying insects feature a flexible joint, or “costal break”, along the leading edge of the wing. In order to observe the costal break in action, scientists used high-speed videography to examine yellow-jackets flying in a flight chamber, and noticed that the costal break was regularly employed; wings temporarily crumpled at the costal break whenever a wing tip collided with the walls or ceiling of the flight chamber. Scientists then used a novel experiment to artificially induce wing wear in Eastern yellow-jacket wasps and common Eastern bumblebees. They separated the insects into two groups: one where they immobilized the costal break with a microsplint, and the other in which the wings were made unaltered. To avoid the desiccation that occurs in isolated wings, the scientists affixed live, intact insects to a custom designed brace attached to a rotational motor that spun them at high frequencies, forcing the tip of the left forewing to repeatedly collide with the surface of a leaf. Each wing was subjected to a total of 777,600 collisions over 60 minutes, which the scientists estimate to be within the range of the total number of wing collisions that bumblebee foragers are likely to experience over the course of their lifespan. They then compared the results of the two groups, and the insects that could not use their costal break lost more area of their wing and accumulated damage at a much faster rate. There was a statistically significant difference between the two groups at every time interval. Restricting the costal break in wings caused a dramatic acceleration in the rate of wing wear compared with unsplinted wings, demonstrating that the costal break plays a critical role in mitigating collision damage in insect wings. Just like how the costal break allows the insect wing to reversibly crumple, the Bee Blade is also designed with a costal break that allows reversible crumpling during a collision. Insect wings are lightweight, flexible structures that consist primarily of hollow, supporting veins and thin intervening membranes, with no intrinsic musculature. Wing flexibility in bees and other flying insects is enhanced by mobile vein joints, which often contain embedded resilin, a rubber-like protein with low stiffness and high elastic efficiency. Our coastal break is designed to be flexible by allowing bending and re-bending through a detached piece controlled by elastics. Insect wing collisions occur when the insects are maneuvering around floral patches, vegetation, and other complex three-dimensional habitats and the Bee Blade is designed to account for these cases, and more. Bumblebee wings are around 0.4 millimeters in diameter, but the Bee Blade is much bigger, to be able to be equipped onto drones and other unmanned aerial devices. Both the Bee Blade and the actual insect wing work naturally and flex at the costal break when the wing tip collides with the surface, and they both work well in mitigating damage and wear and tear. This mechanism allows the insect to retain over 74% of their wing area after hundreds and thousands of collisions, but a constraint is that the insect will eventually be losing bits of their wings, which affects their flight. The Bee Blade remove these compromises by being constructed with durable plastic so that it remains fully intact and even after numerous collisions. Our design was created by the Type-A 3D printers in the Moffitt undergraduate library. The main body and the wing tip are made of a prototyping plastic filiment. The tip is attached with elastic taped to the wings to provide flexibility. We developed the prototype with the intention of modeling the ability of the bee wing to crumple along the costal break. The flexibility along this line is two-dimensional, being able to crumple either upwards are downwards. A similar more refined design with a flexible joint at the wing could have great potential in damage prevention. In order to follow up on the Bee Blade, we will need to collaborate with blade designers and other aerospace engineers to do more research on the pressure differences between the top and bottom of the blade, and continue refining our blade to produce one that is most optimal for flight. We will also need to do work with major drone manufacturers and leaders in electric aviation for both hobby and professionals drones, such as DGI Innovations, Yuneec, and Hubsan in order to have more drones be equipped with the Bee Blade. Finally, we will also partner with drone training groups, such as DartDrones, in order to allow consumers to receive assistance if needed and introduce the Bee Blade to new flyers. It is our hope that the Bee Blade, inspired by the biomechanical structures of bee wings, will be able to alleviate the damage that occurs during drone crashes and collisions, and also help to keep everyone safe during drone operation.

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