Simulations Show how Snakes Can Fly

Over at the Nvidia Blog, George Millington writes that GPU-accelerated computers are helping researchers unlock the mystery of flying snakes. Lead by Lorena Barba from the George Washington University in Washington D.C.m the research team is simulating the aerodynamics of flying snakes using a home-grown CFD application and a Tesla K20 GPU accelerator.

flying snake

Researchers often look for inspiration from nature to help solve problems in the mechanical world. In the case of flying snakes, nature has presented a remarkably elegant solution. Whether to escape a predator, find food or just get from place to place, from a height of 10 meters, the snakes can glide as far as 21 meters, or close to 70 feet. By running sophisticated GPU-accelerated CFD simulations — often used to study the dynamics of how airflow interacts with and affects planes, cars and other vehicles — Barba’s team was able to model and confirm that optimal aerodynamic lift occurs at a 35 degree angle of attack. In addition, computer simulations let Barba’s Ph.D. student, Anush Krishnan, repeatedly vary a number of environmental conditions, such as velocity and angle of attack, and observe the details of air rotation – which is harder to study experimentally.

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