About Us

Our mission is to inspire new technology at the boundary between Fluid Mechanics and Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS). Think autonomous swimming robots or implantable body flow sensors. We are part of the Mechanical & Aerospace Engineering Department, the Electrical & Computer Engineering Department, and the Link Lab at the University of Virginia. Our current research is focused on 1) fish-like robots, 2) microscale quadrotors, and 3) body flow sensors. We’re working on ways that fluid modeling can improve the effectiveness of these devices and better integrate them into a smart and connected world. Scroll down to learn more about us and our research.

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Recent Publications

Influence of the ground, ceiling, and sidewall on micro-quadrotors

Because of their small size and agility, quadrotors could revolutionize search-and-rescue or terrain-mapping missions. However, to do so, they have to operate in confined spaces such as rubble corridors or glacial crevasses. Existing models for how quadrotors behave near obstacles are based on helicopter theories, which are inaccurate at the smaller scales of quadrotors. We therefore built a flow-mapping arena to study how micro-scale quadrotors interact with nearby boundaries. We discovered, for example, that dueling vortices appear beneath micro-quadrotors as they land at an angle.

A graduate curriculum in cyber physical systems

Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) is an emerging field. Existing CPS Education Programs typically have just a couple classes, and they often consist of previously offered classes. Along with others in the UVA Link Lab, we are creating a stand-alone graduate curriculum for CPS that consists of teaching core classes, in-depth classes, and professional development skills. New classes focus on the intersection of the physical and cyber and explicitly relate the technical material in the classes to CPS applications. (This work came out of the CPS National Research Traineeship at UVA, directed by Jack Stankovic).

How dorsal fins make fish faster and more efficient

The dorsal and anal fins of fish interact with the tail fins to produce higher thrust and efficiency. We focused on thin elongated dorsal fins, like those of jackfish. We discovered that dorsal fins can act like the wing strakes of fighter jets, promoting flow attachment on a main lifting surface (wing/tail) by inducing spanwise flow and reducing the effective angle of attack. Beyond a critical sharpness, the effect is more costly than beneficial, meaning dorsal fins may be optimal when they are slightly blunted rather than razor sharp. See a video of the results here(This work was done in collaboration with the Flow Simulation Research Group at the University of Virginia.)

Modeling lateral station-keeping in fish

Fish flap their tails asymmetrically to maneuver around obstacles. In contrast, classic fish tail models assume symmetric motions in a uniform flow. We tested how well these classic models work for maneuvering tails. In some cases, the models work well: even 2D wakeless models were able to predict the phase of high frequency lateral displacements. As for predicting overshoot and settling time, only a semi-empirical model was accurate to within 10%.

Stable equilibria exist for near-surface swimmers and fliers

Fish and birds experience different forces when they swim/fly near a flat surface (e.g. seabed, solid ground, still lake). We discovered that the vertical forces they feel switch from negative (downward) to positive (upward) at a particular distance from the surface. In other words, there’s a stable equilibrium altitude where they are neither pushed down nor up. Animals and bio-inspired robots should factor this altitude into their control schemes; ignoring it could lead to high energy costs when swimming/flying near a flat surface. (This work was done in collaboration with the Biofluids Research Lab at Lehigh University.)