Dragonflies Studied for Hypersonic Maneuverability

By Connie Lee

Photo: iStock

Dragonflies — a common sight in spring and summer — may be key to developing more precise and maneuverable missiles.

The creatures are able to catch 95 percent of their prey, designating them as one of the world’s top predators. Now, Sandia National Laboratories is researching how it can apply a dragonfly’s technique to missiles, said Frances Chance, a computational neuroscientist at Sandia.

The insects take about 50 milliseconds to react to prey despite their limited vision, Chance noted. The project is part of Sandia’s autonomy for hypersonic research campaign.

“They’re very good hunters … but they have limited vision,” she said.

Chance is building a computational model to examine what a dragonfly does when it is intercepting its prey and how its nervous system reacts. The model, which is slated to be completed in October, could later become more complex, she noted. Algorithms gathered from the research could be integrated onto high-speed weapons, such as hypersonic vehicles, which are characterized by their ability to move at speeds of Mach 5 or faster.

“It is admittedly high risk/high gain, but it’s been a small investment just to see if it’s feasible to look to nervous systems for algorithms for this type of domain area,” she said.

“These aren’t intended to go on, let’s say, a missile tomorrow. … It would be the next generation of missiles or even the next generation after that.”

The information could help determine what kind of sensors or calculations to use for faster missile interceptions, Chance noted.

“If we understand what the dragonfly is doing with its neurons and we translate that algorithm to … whatever the fastest computer we can put on a defensive weapon is, how much faster can we make that calculation for the interception trajectory?” she asked.

However, it is still too early in the process to know how this research will translate into military capability, she noted.

“A success for me would be if it changes the way … [engineers] think about designing the next generation of weapons, potentially even getting implemented on the next generation of weapons,” she said.

Topics: Air Power, Research and Development

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