Sunday, 15 April 2012

Bats Save Energy by Drawing in Wings On Upstroke



ScienceDaily (Apr. 11, 2012) — Bat wings are like hands: meaty, bony and full of joints. A new Brown University study finds that bats take advantage of their flexibility by folding in their wings on the upstroke to save inertial energy. The research suggests that engineers looking at flapping flight should account for wing mass and consider a folding design.Whether people are building a flying machine or nature is evolving one, there is pressure to optimize efficiency. A new analysis by biologists, physicists, and engineers at Brown University reveals the subtle but important degree to which that pressure has literally shaped the flapping wings of bats.

The team's observations and calculations show that by flexing their wings inward to their bodies on the upstroke, bats use only 65 percent of the inertial energy they would expend if they kept their wings fully outstretched. Unlike insects, bats have heavy, muscular wings with hand-like bendable joints. The study suggests that they use their flexibility to compensate for that mass.

"Wing mass is important and it's normally not considered in flight," said Attila Bergou, who along with Daniel Riskin is co-lead author of the study that appears April 11 in theProceedings of the Royal Society B."Typically you analyze lift, drag, and you don't talk about the energy of moving the wings."

The findings not only help explain why bats and some birds tuck in their wings on the upstroke, but could also help inform human designers of small flapping vehicles. The team's research is funded by the U.S. Air Force Office of Sponsored Research.

"If you have a vehicle that has heavy wings, it would become energetically beneficial to fold the wings on the upstroke," said Sharon Swartz, professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown. She and Kenneth Breuer, professor of engineering, are senior authors on the paper.

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