Researchers have created a robotic pigeon with actual feathered wings. They published their developments in Science Robotics, where they explain the need of building flying machines to resemble the way birds fly. With this type of flight, drones and RC airplanes can make much tighter turns and make maneuvers not possible in normal planes, or even birds. The researchers studied the wing mechanism of dead pigeons in order to learn about how they control their wing shape.
The researchers say, “We developed a biohybrid aerial robot platform, PigeonBot, to rigorously test whether the approximately linear wrist-finger-feather coupling relationships can be accomplished passively with tuned rubber bands and to determine the role of the finger in flight control.”
PiegonBot is basically a small drone airplane with wings that change their shape. The wings move similar to how a bird can change the shape of its wings, making a more controllable and dynamic flight.
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. The alignment of these feathers is what determines the shape of the wing. Birds can control the shape of their wings in order to change the flight style based on what they are trying to do. Artificial flight by humans are controlled with moving surfaces on the wings, but changing the shape of the wing itself will allow for much more control of the flight.
The researchers say in the paper, “PigeonBot shows that birds may steer their gliding flight with their fingers, although in vivo research is needed to confirm this. Our data further suggest that birds use asymmetric wing morphing to control roll position instead of roll rate, possibly going from one stable roll attractor in parametric space to another. We hypothesize that control of roll angle instead of roll rate may simplify flight in unsteady wind environments; testing this idea requires further study with better flying biohybrid models.”
Basically, the research that they are conducting with moving wings may greatly help flying efficiency. The moving wings will allow the aircraft to adapt itself to different wind conditions.
Moving bodies are not new in airplanes. The famous Concorde (not in service) was the fastest passenger plane in the world. The nose of the Concorde would lower for landing for greater aerodynamic efficiency. Military jets even change the angle of the wings between supersonic and subsonic flight. PigeonBot is taking that to the next level.
They are very careful to conduct their study based on dead pigeons, however. The researchers imply in their paper that they believe in conducting the study without ecological harm.
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