Shark-inspired airplanes

Shark-inspired airplanes


A team of researchers from two American universities (Harvard University and University of South Carolina) studied sharkskin and, in the process, demonstrated a new, bioinspired structure that could improve the aerodynamic performance of planes, wind turbines, drones, and cars. The research was published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface.

“Airfoils are a primary component of all aerial devices”, said August Domel, a Ph.D. student at Harvard’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences and co-first author of the paper. “We wanted to test these structures on airfoils as a way of measuring their effect on lift and drag for applications in the design of various aerial devices such as drones, airplanes, and wind turbines.”

The object of the study was Mako, the fastest shark in the ocean. They can reach speeds of about 95 km / h, making them almost as fast as the gaffers. This is impressive, especially because of the resistance that water opposes makes it harder to advance.

The scientists scanned the scales and then printed some similar 3D. They were glued to aerodynamic profiles, sections made through the wings of planes. Researchers noticed a significant improvement in the load bearing strength of these printed materials. They functioned as vortex generators for planes that improved flight. Thus, the ratio of the two principles of aerodynamics, harness, and resistance to the motion was 323% better when using shark-inspired technology.

“The skin of sharks is covered by thousands and thousands of small scales, or denticles, which vary in shape and size around the body”, said George Lauder, the Henry Bryant Bigelow Professor of Ichthyology and professor of biology in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, a co-author of the research. “We know a lot about the structure of these denticles — which are very similar to human teeth — but the function has been debated.”

The researchers tested 20 different configurations of denticle sizes, rows, and row positions on airfoils inside a water flow tank. They found that in addition to reducing drag, the denticle-shaped structures significantly increased lift, acting as high-powered, low-profile vortex generators.

The Harvard Office of Technology Development has protected the intellectual property relating to this project and is exploring commercialization opportunities.