MAE Research Director and Professor Hilary Bart-Smith is leading a team of researchers at both UVA and other schools to define the field of bio-inspired autonomous systems and push to new frontiers. Building on the success of her first MURI (Multidisciplinary University Research Initiative) award, Bart-Smith is using her second MURI to develop new science to understand fast and efficient swimming, as demonstrated by biology, and apply this to the next generation of underwater vehicles for the Navy. The award total for both MURIs is nearly $14M.

Bart-Smith has brought faculty, scientists, graduate, and undergraduate students from Harvard, Princeton, West Chester, and Lehigh together for the MURI project; she also collaborates with other bio-inspired researchers in the MAE department who are studying highly maneuverable Unmanned Underwater Vehicles (UUVs). These groups of researchers are studying how UUVs could draw inspiration from the fast maneuvers and schooling behaviors of tuna, dolphins, and manta rays. Applications for UUVs may include deploying a swarm of these bio-inspired drones to monitor the conditions of the Chesapeake Bay or to areas hit by natural disasters that are unsafe for humans such as the Gulf of Mexico.

To explore and understand biological swimming, researchers use a wide range of experimental and numerical approaches, including measuring the flow around bio-inspired vehicles using Particle Image Velocimetry systems and using computational fluid dynamics (CFD) models to simulate test scenarios that cannot be realized experimentally. These team efforts have led to a deep understanding of 3-D fluid-structure interactions of batoid rays and tunas that are used to develop new bio-inspired propulsive and control strategies with feedback for robust and efficient locomotion. Ultimately, the results from this work will inform the low-cost production and scale up of bio-inspired autonomous underwater vehicles.