Pigeon-inspired drone bends its wings to make it more agile

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Scientists could employ the machine to look for chook flight. A team from Stanford University has gotten one big step closer. And they found the structures were present in most other bird species except owls, which allowed them to fly more silently.

When a bird is soaring through the air, it dramatically changes the shape of its wings as it makes hairpin turns and swoops up and down.

Lentick led a team to try to pinpoint some of the unique ways that bird wings work. Passenger jets, of course, don't need to dive or roll on short notice, but drones and other small craft might find the ability extremely useful. The robotic insight here is that a bird wing is a huge underactuated system in which a bird doesn't have to constantly actuate each feather individually.

Lentink says that several doctoral students realized that simply by moving the birds' "wrist" and "finger", the feathers would fall into place. "And that's really cool". The researchers then used that knowledge to build a remote-controlled robotic pigeon - they even used real feathers for the machine. Instead, all the feathers follow wrist and finger motion automatically via the elastic ligament that connects the feathers to the skeleton.

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"Since the Wright brothers, aerospace engineers have tried to create wings that can change shape, or morph, as well as birds can morph their wings", said Lentink.

It locked together as the wing expanded, then slipped loose again as the wing contracted, strengthening the extended wing and making it resistant to turbulence.

This is because avian feathers have a locking mechanism that helps them stick together to form smooth, seamless wings that can face even the most turbulent of winds. "It requires an enormous force to separate them". "To prevent the feathers from spreading too far apart, hook-shaped microstructures on adjacent feathers form a directional fastener that locks adjacent feathers", the researchers wrote. These and other findings were published in Science, while the robot itself, devised by "the third student", Eric Chang, is described in Science Robotics.

It's worth noting that the PigeonBot doesn't incorporate something you might associate with birds' wings - flapping. He said that one student - Amanda Stowers studied the wrist and finger motion of the robot, another student -Laura Matloff studied how the feathers moved in response to its bone movement and the movement of the feathers.

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The experiments that the researchers conducted, reported by Science News, showed that the angle between the wing joints greatly impacted the alignment of the feathers in the wing.

He sees it as a sign that drone designs of the future may move away from fixed-wing or rotary-wing technologies. The angle of the flight feathers dictates the shape of the wing.

Lentick says the feather-locking technology they discovered could also someday inspire things like high-tech clothing fasteners or specialized bandages.

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