This is the blog of the course module “Bio-aerial Locomotion”, one of many modules offered as part of the Introduction to Engineering (EK 131/132) series at BU’s College of Engineering.

The blog is used by both the instructor and the students of the course. The instructor posts materials for students to read before or after a class. The students post their assignments, which are all in the form of short articles written on a freely chosen topic related to the course material. Students taking the course are also encouraged to comment on other students’ posts, which is used by the instructor to inform the grading of both the assignment (as a form of peer assessment) and class participation of the commenter.

What is this course about?

Human-designed flying devices are just over 100 years old, which is not very much in historical terms, and much less in evolutionary terms. In nature, flight has evolved quite efficiently, and at least four times (insects, pterosaurs, birds and bats). Moreover, many biological organisms maneuver in the air effectively, without flying, per se.

In this course, we discuss a selection of interesting cases of bio-aerial locomotion of increasing sophistication: from falling and parachuting, to gliding and flying.

When falling, geckos are able to right themselves turning their body in mid-air, and always land safely on their feet.

Some species of snakes can glide to the ground while slithering their body to adjust their shape; and samaras (winged seeds like the maple seed) slow their descent as they spin, so the wind will take them farther aiding dispersal of the tree species.

Many birds can boost their glide by efficiently exploiting thermal currents in the air, and small birds and insects can hover in the air via flapping flight.

All these examples, among others, are inspiring engineers today to design new devices suchas micro-air vehicles and robots that perform impressive feats. In this course, students get a glimpse of the modern activity of bio-inspired engineering, in particular in its relation to the fields of aeronautics and robotics.