Dragonfly inspires new design for the Boeing 777

An amazing intersection between biology and aeronautics is taking shape, placing the humble Dragonfly at the center of an ambitious project to redefine aircraft design*.

The latter suggests a multidisciplinary study, published in the journal advanced science, which explores the possibility of redesigning the wing of the Boeing 777 by taking inspiration from the structure of the wings of a dragonfly. This work could lead to lighter, stronger and more durable aircraft.

Massoud Akbarzadeh In charge of the project, he asserts that nature is a valuable source of inspiration for improving systems. When observing dragonflies, we discover wings that have been perfected over millions of years to become light, efficient, and incredibly strong.

The team investigated the surface geometry and internal structure of dragonfly wing veins. This complex pyramidal configuration provides strength and flexibility, allowing the dragonfly to generate lift and maneuver force quickly.

Dragonfly wing analysis

The researchers analyzed the complexity of the geometric network of dragonfly wing veins using a methodology proposed by James Clerk Maxwell in 1864, known as Maxwell reciprocal diagrams. This analysis tool, used to calculate the balance of forces in a system, has played an important role in deciphering the physics of the dragonfly’s wing structure.

Their discovery allowed the researchers to study the behavior of the wing structure mimicked by the structural pattern of the wing, Massoud Akbarzadeh says, which could lead to wing structures that are more effective against out-of-plane bending.

Machine learning inspired by nature

The research group divided the wing geometry into the inner vascular network and its outer edges. This allowed them to map how the internal structures of the dragonfly’s wing were affected by other components.

The results provided valuable data for training their machine learning algorithm. Massoud Akbarzadeh imagines an aircraft wing designed according to the principles observed in the wing of a dragonfly. This approach could lead to lighter and more efficient aircraft using less materials, resulting in significant savings in fuel and costs, not to mention a significant reduction in aviation’s environmental footprint.

Turning theory into reality

The team applied their findings to real-world scenarios by incorporating dragonfly-inspired designs into the wing structure of a Boeing 777 at a scale of 1:120. They noted a significant improvement in the structural efficiency of the wings. The dragonfly-inspired design increased out-of-plane stiffness by 25%, indicating the potential for lighter, more efficient wing designs.

In the future, the team plans to delve deeper into the 3D structure of the dragonfly’s wing, hoping to discover other sources of inspiration. They also plan to modify their machine learning model, improving its predictive capabilities and increasing the accuracy of artificial structure recreations.

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This study sheds light on the untapped potential of design inspired by nature. Through the synergistic fusion of machine learning, structural biology, and engineering, new frontiers are emerging, promising a wave of innovation across engineering disciplines.

* This project is led by Masoud Akbarzadeh of the Weizmann School of Design atUniversity of Pennsylvania and his former doctoral student Hao Zheng.

Caption: Massoud Akbarzadeh of the Weizmann School of Design leads an interdisciplinary group of architectural designers, structural engineers, computer scientists, and others in the Polyhedral Structures Lab. He is looking for ways to use the geometric polyhedrons frequently found in nature to create structures that are stronger and lighter, while using less materials. Dr. Akbarzadeh talks about a recent study that takes inspiration from the wings of a dragonfly.

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