From Mico Air Vehicles to Lung Sensors

What do a fish-inspired vehicle, micro aerial vehicle stability and a body flow sensor all have in common? Autonomous Systems with Fluid Interaction. Assistant Professor Dan Quinn seeks to invent and inspire new technologies that rely on the efficient interaction of fluids (e.g. air, water, blood) and structures (e.g. vehicles, medical devices, energy harvesters). These research projects are highly multidisciplinary as they involve circuit design, nano-manufacturing, biology and control theory.

To study how fish swim and discover how best to emulate their precise maneuvers in swimming robots, Quinn’s team built a fully wireless platform with glides along two sets of air bearings to test the stability of the robots in a water tunnel. Quinn’s team is also studying flying vehicles, or MAVs (Micro Air Vehicles), in collaboration with the UVA Link Lab, a group of cross-department engineering researchers who study cyber-physical systems (systems with both software and physical components). To understand MAV dynamics, Quinn’s group is using a state-of-the-art Particle Image Velocimetry system, which uses a pulse laser and two high speed cameras to measure flow speeds in air and water. Both of these projects will yield data that will be used to build a “flow library” that can be incorporated into control algorithms for future autonomous vehicles.

Another ongoing project in collaboration with the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (where Quinn has a secondary faculty appointment) investigates how sensors implanted in the upper lung could measure breathing rates for patients with asthma or sleep apnea. The aim of this research is to inspire a wave of noninvasive techniques for measuring breathing patterns and to increase the quality of patient care. In collaboration, the UVA Medical School Anatomy Lab is helping MAE students make a mold of a human trachea to allow tests of lung flow sensors using realistic geometries.