DESIGN, FABRICATION, AND PERFORMANCE CHARACTERIZATION OF MULTIFUNCTIONAL STRUCTURES TO HARVEST SOLAR ENERGY FOR FLAPPING WING AERIAL VEHICLES
Bruck, Hugh A
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Flapping Wing Aerial Vehicles (FWAVs) have the capability to combine the benefits of both fixed wing vehicles and rotary vehicles. However, flight time is limited due to limited on-board energy storage capacity. For most Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) operators, frequent recharging of the batteries is not ideal due to lack of nearby electrical outlets. This imposes serious limitations on FWAV flights. The approach taken to extend the flight time of UAVs was to integrate photovoltaic solar cells onto different structures of the vehicle to harvest and use energy from the sun. Integration of the solar cells can greatly improve the energy capacity of an UAV; however, this integration does effect the performance of the UAV and especially FWAVs. The integration of solar cells affects the ability of the vehicle to produce the aerodynamic forces necessary to maintain flight. This PhD dissertation characterizes the effects of solar cell integration on the performance of a FWAV. Robo Raven, a recently developed FWAV, is used as the platform for this work. An additive manufacturing technique was developed to integrate photovoltaic solar cells into the wing and tail structures of the vehicle. An approach to characterizing the effects of solar cell integration to the wings, tail, and body of the UAV is also described. This approach includes measurement of aerodynamic forces generated by the vehicle and measurements of the wing shape during the flapping cycle using Digital Image Correlation. Various changes to wing, body, and tail design are investigated and changes in performance for each design are measured. The electrical performance from the solar cells is also characterized. A new multifunctional performance model was formulated that describes how integration of solar cells influences the flight performance. Aerodynamic models were developed to describe effects of solar cell integration force production and performance of the FWAV. Thus, performance changes can be predicted depending on changes in design. Sensing capabilities of the solar cells were also discovered and correlated to the deformation of the wing. This demonstrated that the solar cells were capable of: (1) Lightweight and ﬂexible structure to generate aerodynamic forces, (2) Energy harvesting to extend operational time and autonomy, (3) Sensing of an aerodynamic force associated with wing deformation. Finally, different flexible photovoltaic materials with higher efficiencies are investigated, which enable the multifunctional wings to provide enough solar power to keep the FWAV aloft without batteries as long as there is enough sunlight to power the vehicle.