BRINGS AIR­CRAFT CLOSER TO FEATH­ERED-FLIGHT

Muscat Daily - - FEATURES -

Since the dawn of the avi­a­tion era, in­ven­tors have strived to build air­craft that fly as nim­bly as birds, whose mor­phable wings al­low for faster, tighter turns and more ef­fi­cient glid­ing.

That dream was a step closer to re­al­ity last week af­ter re­searchers at Stan­ford Univer­sity an­nounced they had stud­ied the wings of com­mon pi­geon ca­dav­ers, then used their find­ings to build a ra­dio-con­trolled ‘Pi­geonBot’ with wings made with 40 real feath­ers.

"Aerospace and ma­te­ri­als en­gi­neers can now start re­think­ing how they can de­sign, man­u­fac­ture and con­trol ma­te­ri­als and wings that morph as deftly as birds do," said David Lentink, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor

of me­chan­i­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Stan­ford and the se­nior author of two pa­pers de­scrib­ing the re­sults in the jour­nals Sci­ence and

Sci­ence Ro­bot­ics.

All four-limbed an­i­mals, in­clud­ing di­nosaurs, evolved from an an­ces­tor that had five dig­its at the end of its limbs, which be­came hands, paws, flip­pers or wings over time.

Mod­ern birds re­tained three dig­its or fin­gers. By study­ing the pi­geon wings in a wind tun­nel, the re­searchers found that wrist and fin­ger ac­tion pro­vided fine con­trol over feather place­ment, wing­span and area.

In flight tests, ma­nip­u­la­tion of the wrist and fin­gers ini­ti­ated sta­ble turn ma­noeu­vres at tight angles, which the re­searchers said pro­vided some of the first ev­i­dence that birds pri­mar­ily use these dig­its to steer in flight.

The teams also drilled into the me­chan­ics of how birds morph their wings, find­ing that ad­ja­cent flight feath­ers stick to­gether to form a con­tin­u­ous wing us­ing a hook-like mi­crostruc­ture that acts like Vel­cro.

It locked to­gether as the wing ex­panded, then slipped loose again as the wing con­tracted, strength­en­ing the ex­tended wing and mak­ing it re­sis­tant to tur­bu­lence.

And they found the struc­tures were present in most other bird species ex­cept owls, which al­lowed them to fly more silently.

Lentink added that the Vel­cro-like struc­tures, known by their tech­ni­cal name as ‘lo­bate cilia’, could have a wide range of fash­ion, med­i­cal and aerospace ap­pli­ca­tions which he and col­leagues were look­ing at as an area of fu­ture re­search.

(Top) A De­cem­ber 18, 2017, im­age cour­tesy of Lentink Lab at Stan­ford Univer­sity, Cal­i­for­nia, shows a Pi­geonBot in flight; and (bot­tom) a close up of the Pi­geonBot wing made of real feath­ers linked by elas­tic lig­a­ments to syn­thetic wrists and fin­gers

David Lentink

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