Novel Wind Tunnel for Birds Paves the Way for Better Drones

Pigeons can currently outclass any aerial robot's flight. Stanford University engineering professor David Lentink plans to use a new wind tunnel to learn the magic of bird flight and apply it to building better aerial robots. Nearly two meters long, the six-sided windowed observation section of the tunnel provides Lentink and his students a variety of ways to study bird flight. They currently zero in on specific aspects of birds' wing beats, using high speed cameras as well as motion capture techniques more commonly utilized in Hollywood films, recording wing motion millisecond by millisecond. They then translate these measurements to precise calculations of the force dynamics experienced along the birds' wings and in the surrounding air. Lentink envisions using the tunnel as a test-bed for new aerial robot designs. In addition to establishing better maneuverability controls for common quadcopter designs, he's particularly interested in building bird-like, winged robots that quickly morph their wing shape in order to maintain stability in turbulent air flows.