Look up in the sky. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Is it Superman? No, it is a drone!
The next time you probably take a look up in the sky you might just say that line. It is not far that you will see a drone disguised as a bird – that’s because there are now drones developed to fly just like a bird – but upon second look they are actually just robots.
Researchers from the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems have developed feather-equipped drones that have utmost precision during flight. This is after they have observed birds in flight and took inspiration from there in building drones that can do just that.
The bio-inspired device has a lot to do with aerodynamics. It is able to change its velocity, counter headwinds, and even move through tight spaces just like birds, only by altering the configuration of its wingspan.
It has the ability to fly between obstacles, make sharp turns, and cope strong winds thanks largely to the geometry composition of the drone, which can be changed mid-flight.
There is a moving part in the outer wings of the drone that works like bird’s quill feathers, and some feathers which can fold and overlap like a fan.
Matteo di Luca, one of the researchers, explains, “We were inspired by birds: they can radically transform the size and shape of their wings because they have an articulated skeleton that is controlled by muscles and covered in feathers that overlap when the wings are folded.”
Since the drone is inspired by nature, the greatest challenge is to mimic the movement of the birds.
Researcher Stefano Mintchev shares that it is extremely difficult to find the right balance between aerodynamic efficiency and the weight of the device. But in the end, the wings of the drone composed of composite materials to maximize strength and reduce overall weight.
While it is still a challenge for the field of aeronautics to find the ideal replacement for morphing wings that could adapt to the environment and weather conditions, this winged drone removes the need for such as it can already do the turning by itself.
The head of the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems, Dario Floreano, elaborates, “With the foldable wings, we discovered that we didn’t need ailerons to help the drone turn. By changing the wingspan and surface area during flight, we could make it turn automatically.”
Developing such drones can provide insights on different possibilities and applications primarily on flight of devices.