Naked eye, a drone has nothing to do with a bird. At least in its version with propellers, which is usually the most adopted design in domestic or professional drones. Separate case are drones like those used by the United States Army, for example, and which adopts the classic design with two wings.

However, aeronautical research has always been inspired by nature to get the technologies that we enjoy today. From the flight of Icarus, where according to Greek mythology, Daedalus joined feathers with thread and wax to the designs of the Renaissance and the successive experiments prior to the first successful flight of the Wright brothers. Even the most modern aircraft They are related to the shape of the birds, from the aerodynamic beak to the wings and their shape designed so that the air does not find any impediment during the flight.

But the imitation of nature sometimes reaches such a point that extravagances such as drone cat which basically consisted of a four-propeller drone wrapped in the dissected carcass of a cat. A little less creepy is the proposal that comes from Stanford University, and more specifically from its BIRD laboratory, bird in English, an acronym for Bio Inspired Research and Design (Design and research inspired by biology).

His idea is to use real bird feathers to fly a drone. Your name, PigeonBot, since the wings used are of dove. And behind this apparently strange proposal, lies the curiosity to understand how doves transform their wings During flight.

The research was originally published in Science Robotics and many outlets were echoed, such as Popular Mechanics.

Why do birds fly?

This question has been asked for decades by researchers and they have offered the odd answer. They have even managed to imitate the flight of birds to some extent. Of course, it has never been possible to achieve a identical equivalent to bird wings. The first impediment, the difficulty mimicking biological material. The second, the difficulty of creating wings that move and adapt to flight or landing, as occurs with the wings of birds such as pigeons, protagonists of this story.

From the Stanford BIRD laboratory they consider that studying and applying bird flight to drones will make this flight technology evolve and change in the future.

During their observation, they have unraveled that pigeons, like other birds, do not use independent muscles to control each feather. The process is synchronized thanks to special ligaments. Ligaments that unite and provide control to the 20 average feathers that populate each wing. And the BIRD team at Stanford University has replicated it in the laboratory combining real wings with plastic and metal mechanisms.

The next step is to find out in detail how the birds do to tailor their wings and feathers at different times of the flight to be more aerodynamic, something that the static structures of the planes or drones current cannot recreate. For the moment.

The answer is in PigeonBot

The Stanford research laboratory responsible for PigeonBot details how this drone was created, closer to a model due to its appearance but that combines mechanical, electronic and biological wings. The tail is cardboard, its wooden structure, has a front propeller powered by a small motor and among other electronic elements it integrates a telemetry transceiver, air speed sensor, GPS, radio frequency receiver, gyroscope, magnetometer… Of course, to stay in flight, it uses two wings that combine dove wings with cardboard, plastic and mechanical parts.

The project that PigeonBot has created began in 2014 with the study of pigeons and their flight. From there, they have managed to synthesize in the form of hybrid drone the flight of birds in the form of a drone. The result, this drone can move in 42 independent ways, being able to control the position of the 40 pens used in the drone and that it is moved by four servo motors.

PigeonBot is just the first of many drones to employ new discoveries about how birds fly to get flight technology better adapts to the air than current devices. And it is that you only have to see the flight of a pigeon or the flight of PigeonBot to see the small differences in flight and how it has more stability and less jerky movements.

You will find more information on the official BIRD Labs page of Stanford University.

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