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A dandelion-inspired drone for swarm sensing

Project description

Drawing inspiration from the dandelion

Imagine we could fly small drones that remain airborne for days to monitor the environment, search for pollutants, etc. This is not yet possible because insect-scale drones can remain airborne for only a few minutes before the power runs out. By contrast, some natural flyers remain airborne for days. This ERC-funded DANDIDRONE project is inspired by the dandelion, which takes off from just 30 cm away from the ground, and travels for hundreds of kilometres powered only by the wind. The project seeks to understand and establish proof of principle of a completely new fluid dynamics mechanism that might enable small flyers to passively hover in turbulent wind.


In the next decade, distributed sensor network systems made of small flying sensors, from dust-scale to insect-scale, will enable a step change in monitoring natural disasters and remote areas. They will contribute to protecting the environment by providing data on the contamination of physical and biological systems and on the impact of human activities. To date, a key limitation of this technology is that small sensors can remain airborne only for a few tens of minutes.

By contrast, some natural flyers such as the dandelion fruit, travel unpowered for days and hundreds of kilometres. Recent work led by Viola and published in Nature1, reveals that the dandelion adopts a highly porous wing to forms a new fluid vortex that has never been observed before, and to increase its aerodynamic efficiency by an order of magnitude. Furthermore, the dandelion’s unique shape enables to exploit horizontal wind gusts to re-gain altitude and remain airborne for days. This latter mechanism has never been studied, nor artificially replicated, and could lead to a ground-breaking discovery on how to sustain the unpowered flight of small manmade flyers.

Fundamental bio-inspired fluid mechanics research will be undertaken with high-fidelity computational fluid dynamics (work packages WP1-2) and will inform the design of a dandelion-inspired drone, the DANDIDRONE. This will be the first unpowered insect-scale flyer capable to sustain hover in wind gusts.

A steering system to control the swarm dispersal in the atmosphere will be developed in WP3; a prototype will be manufactured in WP4 and it will be demonstrated with wind tunnel tests in WP5. A first-of-its-kind wind tunnel for low Reynolds number gust encounter research will be developed. Finally, the impact of this project will be maximised in WP6 by engaging with key stakeholders and by paving the way to the development of a new class of distributed sensor network systems with unprecedented endurance.


Net EU contribution
€ 1 986 428,00
Old college, south bridge
EH8 9YL Edinburgh
United Kingdom

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Scotland Eastern Scotland Edinburgh
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
Other funding
€ 0,00

Beneficiaries (1)