Saturday, April 13, 2019

NASA and MIT Engineers Design New Transforming Wing

   A team of engineers at NASA and MIT have created a wing composed of hundreds of tiny, identical pieces that are capable of morphing into the most efficient shape for a given stage of flight. This could provide a significant boost in aircraft production, flight and maintenance efficiency.
   Instead of the use of separate moveable surfaces, the design incorporates a mix of tiny sub-assemblies bolted together to form an open, lightweight lattice framework covered in polymer material. The structure is comprised of thousands of tiny triangles in a strut arrangement that combines the structural stiffness of rubbery polymers and the lightness of an aerogel.
    During each phase of a flight, there is a different set of optimal wing parameters. Therefore a conventional wing could be viewed as a compromise that is not necessarily optimized for any of these phases.
   The team used the idea of an optimized, constantly deformable wing and took it a step further. They designed a system that automatically responds to changes in aerodynamic loading conditions by shifting its shape in response to particular kinds of stresses.
    “We’re able to gain efficiency by matching the shape to the loads at different angles of attack,” said Nicholas Cramer at NASA Ames in California, the paper’s lead author. “We’re able to produce the exact same behavior you would do actively, but we did it passively.” 

   Furthermore although the version produced for the study was hand-assembled by a team of graduate students, the repetitive process is easily replicable using simple autonomous assembly robots. This would involve a system of injecting-moulding polyethylene resin into a complex 3-D mould, producing each part in just 17 seconds according to the researchers.

You can find the full research paper from the May issue of Smart Materials and Structures here: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1361-665X/ab0ea2

Image Credit: Eli Gershenfeld, NASA Ames Research Center

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