Friday, 10 Apr, 2009 Science

Researchers Analyze Birds to Develop Wing-flapping Robotic Aircraft


In a new research scientists analyzed the simple mechanism used by bats, birds and bugs to turn during flight. The goal of the study is to upgrade the flying robots.

The lead research of the study is Tyson Hedrick, a professor of biology at the University of North Carolina. "From fruit flies through hummingbirds to larger birds and bats, we tried to uncover the fundamental aspects of turning in flight," said Hedrick.

It is worth mentioning that this is the first study that analyzes a number of different flying creatures and their ability to turn in flight without falling to the ground. Researchers managed to take detailed pictures of birds, bats and bugs in the middle of the turn. Using those images scientists discovered that it is easier for the flying creatures to turn than it was previously thought.

All that a bird has to do in order to turn left is flap its right wing somewhat harder that the left wing. When a bird wants to end its turn it synchronically flaps its wings.

"Flapping is a rapid and powerful activity that offers a potent means for rapid movement control and recovery," said Bret Tobalske, a professor at the University of Montana. He did not take part in the study but wrote an accompanying commentary of the research and its results in the journal Science.

With the help of high-speed photography, another co-author of the research Xinyan Deng, together with her team from the University of Delaware, develops flapping robots, which help better understand the speed and maneuverability of flying creatures. One of the robots sits in a container with mineral oil and flaps its wings to "fly" in the liquid. The team's other robots were developed to be true flyers. They flap their winds at a distance of 10 to 15cm from wingtip to wingtip.

Up till now the scientists managed to make the robots flap their wings and the next step would be to make them fly. According to Deng, a robot that flaps its wings to be able to fly will have more advantages over fixed-wing aircraft. These robots would be much easier to control and they could be used in a smaller area, informs Discovery News.

"Usually if you have increased stability that means you have decreased mobility. Here it looks like you get a little bit of both," mentioned Deng.

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