Engineers at Wright-Patterson AFB have found that designing micro air vehicles – or MAVs – is nothing like shrinking an F-16. At a mere six inches in length, Robotic Birds pack sensors, receivers, and power supplies that enable them to fly, hover, and rest virtually unnoticed – making them ideal vehicles for gathering intelligence. Motion capture – MOCAP – is an important support technology. Commonly used in video game development to record and digitize movement, MOCAP is now being employed by Air Force researchers to teach computers to fly remotely and to track air and land vehicles.

Speaking of research, it doesn’t get “battier” than Air Force efforts to advance MAV capabilities. While MAVs are successfully being used in Afghanistan and Iraq, their wings are unsuited for maneuvering in tight spaces and harsh weather. So researchers are modelling the next generation of MAVs on the sophisticated wings of bats, which actually change shape during flight, enabling them to remain airborne and flexible in difficult conditions. These Ornithopters (wing-flapping aircraft) will smoothly navigate turbulent weather and complex environments like forests, buildings, caves, and tunnels.

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