New Bird-Like Drone Uses Artificial “Wings” to Stay Airborne

Summary: Scientists in the Netherlands have developed a bird-like drone that uses artificial “wings” to stay airborne. The drone relies on its propellers only 0.25% of the time while hovering in a wind tunnel, showcasing a substantial enhancement in efficiency compared to standard flight modes that necessitate propeller usage of 38%. This unique mode of flight, dubbed “orographic soaring,” mimics the technique used by birds to soar by riding air currents upward while adjusting their descent rate to maintain equilibrium. By replicating this technique, bird-like drones could stay airborne for much longer periods without relying heavily on propellers.

Bird drones that utilize “orographic soaring” can generate thrust through propellers or onboard motors. The researchers developed an autonomous algorithm that allows the drone to adapt and respond to shifting wind patterns, utilizing data from sensors such as airspeed measurement, GPS navigation, and visual input from a camera.

While the achieved flight durations in the wind tunnel did not surpass 30 minutes, the accomplishment is noteworthy considering the drone’s simplistic design and minimal reliance on propulsion. However, the true test for the bird drone lies outside of the wind tunnel, as it needs to adapt swiftly to real-world wind dynamics for optimal performance.

Taking inspiration from nature, scientists have looked to birds to reimagine drone flight. Flapping-wing micro bird drones, for example, replicate the intricate biomechanics of actual bird flight, offering enhanced agility and maneuverability. As technology advances and our understanding of bird flight mechanics deepens, further breakthroughs in bird-inspired drone design are expected to reshape industries and redefine aerial capabilities.

– The Btye
– United States Air Force Research Lab