Stanford researchers’ PigeonBot provides insight into mechanics of bird wings

Stanford researchers’ PigeonBot provides insight into mechanics of bird wings”

The team described how they used the PigeonBot robot, which consisted of 40 elastically connected springs and machine-controlled wrist and finger joints, to better understand how a bird's wings change during flight. Scientists had thought the feathers might be controlled by individual muscles.

During the flight tests, the wrist and finger manipulations began steady turns at tight angles, which the researchers said provided some of the first evidence that the birds mainly used these digits to direct in flight. "And that's really cool". Roboticists have tried to replicate feathery fliers for nearly two decades, but these efforts have been hindered by use of rigid feather-like panels and a lack of understanding of the skeletal and muscular mechanics behind birds' highly morphable wings.

In fact, the only birds who do not have the feather-fastening system are night-hunting predators like owls, who need to catch prey unawares in the silence of the dark, and appear to have made an evolutionary trade-off, swapping greater maneuverability for stealth.

"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.

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". Acting like Velcro, these structures locked during extension and unlocked automatically during flexion.

The research is published as two separate papers in the journals Science and Science Robotics.

Video of PigeonBot bending using asymmetric wing formatting. The designers were focused on incorporating the more subtle wrist-and-finger motions of the wings, so the bot appears to be gliding through the air while it's in 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.

He sees it as a sign that drone designs of the future may move away from fixed-wing or rotary-wing technologies.

PigeonBot's wing. You can see that the feathers are joined by elastic connections so moving one moves others.

"The little active morphing wing principles presented here can inspire more economical and simple morphing wing designs for planes and robots with more degrees of freedom than previously considered", the researchers write in the Science Robotics article. The findings could also advance scientists' understanding of feather evolution, he said.

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