Small unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as micro air vehicles, are promising tools for a variety of military and commercial applications. Some small UAS have flexible wings and are lightweight, making them back-packable and easy to deploy. Most UAS that are currently available have limited extended communications ability and short battery life.
To enhance communications and battery life without increasing weight and sacrificing deployability, a flexible wing was developed that incorporates electronics, sensors, and fuel cells, and can self-erect upon receiving thermal stimuli.
The wing is made of a flexible dielectric substrate, providing surface area for flexible printed circuitry and micro fuel cell components. Flexible printed circuitry such as a microstrip patch or printed antennas that enhance transmitter/receiver and network capabilities can be added without adding size or significantly additional weight.
Micro fuel cells have the potential to increase the operating life of the vehicle by 10 times compared to vehicles using lithium-ion batteries. Bonded to the substrate is a layer of shape memory polymer that enables the wing to self-erect when thermally stimulated. Ultimately, this innovation could lead to a low-cost, throwaway wing made of an expendable meta-material, effectively making the wing a replaceable battery and sensor system.