Robots are advancing at an amazing rate, gone are the days where robots were controlled by hidden men, pulling strings and making human-like movements, there are now robots that have very lifelike features, hands with tendons and finger that move independently and onmi legs, some models from the advanced robotics manufacturer, Boston dynamics, can run and do backflips, navigating over rough ground and making decisions in challenging situations.
Animal-like machines have been created, some for the battlefield, they have been demonstrated to be able to track and follow soldiers as well as targets across different terrains. There have been crazy advances with drones in the military, for journalism and general consumers too.
Scientists, engineers and inventors have tried to mimic bird flight from the heady days of early attempts with flying, machines were built with ‘wings’ that flapped, normally resulting in catastrophic damage to the structure and eventual failure through vibration, after many attempts the fixed-wing configuration was the best method for flight with aeroplanes when forward velocity through gliding or with a motor of some sort drives air over and under the wings creating lift and motion.
Birds do not fly with a fixed-wing, they may glide and assume this position during undulating or when fluctuating from one position to the other, birds use their wings in different ways to aeroplanes with have many more operations with forms of function, changing states with swoops up and down as well as hairpin turns in the air.
A Team from Stanford university are well on the way to creating machines with wings that are very birdlike in function with the creation of PigeonBot, a winged device that can change its wings in very complex ways and is the most advanced robot to have varying flight capabilities.
The team learnt about the inner working of bird flight with the use of common pigeon cadavers, most bio-scientists previously thought the feathers are controlled by individual muscles but the team from Stanford found that a pigeon can control many wing movements through its wrist and individual finger action.
David Lentink who is a professor of mechanical engineering at Stanford University led the team of researchers to pinpoint the dynamics of bird wing flight to then use the results of what they found to build PigeonBot
Findings showed that when a bird moves its fingers and wrists that the whole wing will move automatically with varying degrees of attack paths, it seems the fingers are very important for steering.
After the research had concluded a model was built using 40 pigeon feathers, some springs and rubber bands which were connected to the wrist and finger structures, this all works together with the microscopic ‘hooks’ on the feathers that allow them to interlock a bit like the popular fastener Velcro, this also aids in rough weather.
The bio-bot was then placed in a wind tunnel to test how it would cope under turbulent conditions and it faired very well. Lentink said, “Most aerospace engineers would say this is not going to work well, but it turned out to be incredibly robust,”
“I really love aircraft as well, but it just doesn’t compare to a bird.”
The team focused on the control mechanisms of flight rather than the flapping motion, this can be coupled to real-world applications associated with flight perhaps being integrated with drones and other flying machines. Lentink went on to say “It actually enables birds to fly further, longer, manoeuvre much better”.
With this research, air flight and motion could move away from fixed wing as well as rotary wing technologies with animal-inspired designs in military, transportation and courier deliveries.