Available technologies

Smart morphing structures with full shape control

Reference number: 2705

Developed by Professor Lorenzo Iannucci, Department of Aeronautics, Imperial College London

Overview

If the geometry of a mechanism could be morphed at will, its efficiency and functionality could be greatly improved. For example, an aircraft wing has different optimal wing shapes for varying velocities and conditions. Yet aerofoil geometries are currently limited by the use of traditional flaps. If it were possible to constantly transform the whole wing structure based on the immediate requirements, efficiency could significantly improve.

The same holds true in automotive or wind turbines. Efficiency is not only limited to aerodynamics but could also include incidence of light in adaptive solar panels or light control in buildings. Possibilities for morphing structures are endless, as we are constantly faced with the limitation of traditional, static materials. Leading researchers from the department of aeronautics at Imperial College London, have created a ground-breaking morphing structure technology.

Our patented technology consists of a smart core fabricated from many layers of piezoceramic material, forming a honeycomb structure. Actuations of the walls, which can be performed independently for each cell, will ultimately morph the core shape.

Benefits

Applications

  • Manipulates the whole control surface
  • Reduced complexity of variable systems by eliminating movable parts and associated equipment
  • Significant performance advantage through optimised geometry, thus reduced power consumption
  • Virtually instantaneous transformations
  • Wing/fin: UAV, UUV, cruise missiles, and commercial & military aircraft
  • Energy Generation : Wind turbines, water turbines
  • Motorsport: Aero appendices, body components
  • Construction: Smart panels for climate control, light control, aesthetic elements (internal and external)
  • Consumer products: Morphing snowboards, high-performance bicycles

Technology

Morphing Geometry Technology (MGT) is a changeable geometry structure comprising an active ‘smart’ core and a passive flexible outer skin. The honeycomb core consists of piezoelectric actuators or shape memory alloys (SMA), depending on the application. The honeycomb structure of the core allows high strength at relatively low weight. The outer skin can consist of Glass or Carbon Fibre reinforced polyurethane composite. The skin is a passive element, fitting perfectly around the core and remaining attached during the deformation.

The overall shape of the core is changed when heat or an electric field is applied to the piezoelectric material or the SMA honeycomb structure. The passive flexible skin will move with the outer layer of the core to change the profile of the overall structure. In so doing, precise control of the geometry is made possible. The piezoelectric actuators can change shape within milliseconds while the SMA core will change in a matter of seconds. Thus, geometric change is virtually instantaneous, making the technology applicable to high speed applications as well as conventional low-speed usage.

As an example, UAV morphing wings can potentially reduce system complexity by eliminating control surfaces and auxiliary equipment. The UAV can adapt to different mission requirements and execute more effectively by maintaining an optimum aerofoil section for a range of speeds, including transonic flight.

Intellectual Property

Granted patent: Priority Application - 0624580.7

contact

Laura Cabo-Fernandez

Industry Partnerships and Commercialisation Officer, Engineering

l.cabo-fernandez@imperial.ac.uk

+44 (0)20 7594 5246

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