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Planet Earth

Birds School Drones in a Wind Tunnel

D-briefBy Nathaniel ScharpingMay 5, 2016 11:41 PM

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For all of their high-tech accolades, drones are still easily batted around by capricious air currents. Drones, as they're currently designed, aren't nimble enough to adapt to split-second changes in air pressure and velocity, making flying in rough conditions something of a headache. One Stanford researcher thinks he has a way to solve the problem, and to do so, he turned to animals that solved the issue of turbulence long ago: birds. Using a specially designed wind tunnel, David Lentink is studying how birds fly under a variety of conditions using ultra-slow-motion cameras and motion capture technology. The wind tunnel simulates different levels and forms of turbulence, and Lentink studies how birds adapt their wing motions and speeds to deal with tricky situations. [embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YfAHXY97kTA[/embed] He uses the generated data to model the tactics birds use to keep stable, which will help his team to create software and hardware that lets drones fly smoothly in rough conditions. Lentink says that he wants to build drones that use bird-like wings to fly so they can mimic birds' mid-air maneuvers. Once he has a basic design, he'll use his wind tunnel to further refine his models, cranking the wind speeds up to over 100 miles per hour.

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If robotic birds may seem a bit far out, or even unnecessary, consider the Bionic Bird, a drone made by a French company that flits about in a life-like fashion. Trying it out for the Youtube channel Tested, host Norman Chan mentions that it seems to falter in windy conditions. Perhaps it should give the wind tunnel a go?

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