EPS PGR Christmas Lecture - Learning to Fly from Plant Seeds


EPS PGR Christmas Lecture - Learning to Fly from Plant Seeds

Wed, 07/12/2022 - 14:00
Professor Ignazio Maria Viola
University of Edinburgh

Please register to attend at https://forms.gle/LytKaVQMYKdtFXdR9

Refreshments will be provided after the lecture.

In the next decade, distributed sensor network systems made of small flying sensors, from dustscale
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. However, scaling down existing drone
technology is difficult because the aerodynamic efficiency (e.g. lift/drag) decreases with decreasing
size. Consequently, insect-inspired drones can remain airborne only few tens of minutes and have a
range of less than a kilometre.

By contrast, some natural flyers such as the diaspore of the dandelion, travel unpowered for days
and hundreds of kilometres. A paradigm shift is thus proposed, where the design of small flyers is
inspired by the unpowered dispersal of plant seeds rather than by powered flyers such as insects. We
will discuss the aerodynamic strategies of different diaspores to maximise their dispersal [1, 2, 3, 4].
Each diaspore include a seed, its protective fruit and some additional appendages. For example,
recent work first authored by Dr Cathal Cummins, now at HWU, and published in Nature [1], reveals
that the dandelion diaspore employs a filamentous disc-shaped wing of 90% porosity. This allows the
aerodynamic force to increase even higher than for an impervious wing, with only 1/10 of the mass.
Finally, we will discuss some future works that are needed to translate these biological insights into

[1] Cummins et al., Nature 2018, 563:414-418. [2] Lentink et al., Science 2009, 324:1438-1440. [3] Certini
et al., Am. J. Bot. 2020, 107(12):1-8. [4] Azuma & Okuno, J. Theor. Biol. 1987, 129(3):236-275.


Ignazio Maria Viola is Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Bioinspired Engineering at the School of Engineering, University of Edinburgh. His research is in fluid mechanics and it focuses on the
interaction between solid bodies and vortical flow structures. Vortex flow is often observed in nature,
where natural evolution has led to optimal solutions for complex problems. Hence, we seek inspiration
from the fluid mechanics of plants and animals to develop new technology. Viola has written more
than 100 journal and conference papers, for which he has been awarded two Medals of Distinction
and one Medal of Exceptional Merit by the Royal Institution of Naval Architects, a society of which
he was elected Fellow. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of Sailing Technology and Editorial Board
Member of four other journals. He is the recipient of the ERC Consolidator Grant Dandidrone on
unsteady aerodynamics of dandelion-inspired drones.