Indian students create plane that generates power by wing vibrations

A team of Indian students, spread across four countries in three continents, have jointly created the world’s first airplane that generates its own power by the vibration of its wings. The path breaking idea has made it to the finals of a global competition floated by Airbus. The team which includes students presently studying in Bangalore, Netherlands, US and London envisages a future when the aircraft wings can be dressed in a composite skin that harvests energy from natural vibrations or flex in the wings. The team now travels to Hamburg, Germany, to make their case for the top prize to Airbus. The winners of “Fly Your Ideas” competition to be announced on May 27 will win a 30,000 euro jackpot. Team leader Mr. Sathiskumar Anusuya Ponnusami from Delft University of Technology (Netherlands) told TOI, “There is a natural vibration that exists in every aircraft when it flies during which energy is generated. At present this energy goes wasted. We intend to harvest the energy from those vibrations which will be sufficient enough to power inflight operations like lighting and on board entertainment.” The team uses piezoelectric fibres which gather electrical charges from even the smallest movements during flight, storing the energy generated in battery panels integrated in the fuselage and using it to power auxiliary in-flight systems. This reduces the energy footprint of aircraft during flight and could even replace the entire power source for ground operations. “Also we convert the body of the aircraft into a gigantic battery. On an average the plane needs to fly for about 12 hours to have enough energy. So the idea will cater to long haul flights. At present, for taxing, the airplane keeps both its main engines running which is a total waste. Instead the plane can use the energy it saved up through the vibration during flight time,” Mr. Ponnusami added. Mr. Ponnusami calls his team “Multifun” because of the varied factors that bring the team and their idea together. “Though we are one team, all of us are based at different parts of the world. Though we are from India, we speak different languages. Our idea is also about a multi-functional materiel,” Mr. Ponnusami told TOI from Netherlands. The team includes Mr. Dhamotharan Veerasamy from City University London, Mr. Shashank Agrawal and Mr. Ajith Moses from Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore and Mr. Mohit Gupta from Georgia Institute of Technology (USA). They all met while studying at IISc’s NM Cad Lab of the aerospace engineering department. They have been working on the project for the past half year. The Indian team is among the five finalists with other teams too floating innovative ideas. The ideas include creating drones to keep birds away from airports and guide them to an artificial safe environment nearby, video game-style sensors to guide planes when taxiing, an automatic on-board recycling trolley and wireless power transmitters around the airport that use energy from the moving aircraft to power ground operations. To take part of the competition, 518 multi-disciplinary teams representing 3,700 students from 104 countries submitted projects by December 2014. Around 100 teams were selected for round two, representing 413 students of 48 nationalities. Around 45% of the teams are based in Asia-Pacific, 35% in Europe, 15% in Americas.

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