Tiny UAVs and hummingbirds are put to test

Jul 30, 2014 by Nancy Owano weblog
Green Violetear at a flower. Image: Wikipedia.

Hummingbirds in nature exhibit expert engineering skills, the only birds capable of sustained hovering. A team from the US, British Columbia, and the Netherlands have completed tests to learn more about the hummingbird's flight expertise and how their skills measure up to helicopter rotors. They compared the hummingbird's flight performance with a micro-drone called the Black Hornet, a 16-gram helicopter used by troops for surveillance.

Their study was published by the Royal Society in its journal, Interface. The study is "Hummingbird wing efficacy depends on aspect ratio and compares with helicopter rotors." The verdict: They found the Hornet's rotor to be about as efficient as the wing performance of the . The BBC carried a video where Professor David Lentink from Stanford University commented on the slowed-down video that enabled the study team to see the exact movements of the wing. He said the key finding of their study was that the current micro-helicopter on the market performs equal to the average hummingbird. The similar aerodynamic performance is remarkable, he said, something the team did not expect. (The authors wrote, "A side-by-side aerodynamic performance comparison of hummingbird wings and an advanced micro helicopter rotor shows that they are remarkably similar.")

The authors' experiments involved lab tests and videos. To make the laboratory measurements, they used wings from hummingbird specimens kept in museums. They put the detached wings into a wing spinner to get exact measurements of how much flapping power was needed to lift the bird's weight. Colleagues at the University of British Columbia made recordings of hummingbirds in flight. In measuring the birds' wing movements, they found the wings beat up to 80 times per second.-"By combining the wings' motion with the drag [that we measured in the lab], we were able to calculate the aerodynamic power hummingbird muscles need to provide to sustain hover," said Prof. Lentink, in the BBC report. The birds' hovering performance on average was on par with the helicopter.

He said that "if we design the wings well, we can build drones that hover as efficiently, if not more efficiently, as hummingbirds," said Prof Lentink. As of now, he stated, "we are not even close to hummingbirds in many other design metrics, such as wind gust tolerance, visual flight control through clutter, to name a few." Nonetheless, he said, with a particular focus on aerodynamic efficiency, "we are closer than we perhaps ever imagined possible."

The hummingbird observations and comparison with the Black Hornet are one more instance of scientists' keen interest in what can happen when exploring how biology and engineering can intersect. Scientists are humbled by engineering skills of animals and seek to translate those skills using technology. "There is still a ton we can learn from nature," Lentink said in Canada.com

Explore further: First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

More information: J. R. Soc. Interface vol. 11 no. 99 20140585. DOI: 10.1098/rsif.2014.0585

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Hummingbirds make flying backward look easy

Sep 27, 2012

Animals that move backwards usually require a lot of energy, so Nir Sapir from the University of California Berkeley, USA, was surprised when he realized that hummingbirds execute this maneuver routinely. ...

Recommended for you

First drone in Nevada test program crashes in demo

14 hours ago

A drone testing program in Nevada is off to a bumpy start after the first unmanned aircraft authorized to fly without Federal Aviation Administration supervision crashed during a ceremony in Boulder City.

Fully automated: Thousands of blood samples every hour

22 hours ago

Siemens is supplying automation technology for the longest and one of the most cutting-edge sample processing lines in any clinical laboratory. The line, or automation track, 200 meters long, in Marlborough, ...

Explainer: What is 4-D printing?

22 hours ago

Additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – is 30 years old this year. Today, it's found not just in industry but in households, as the price of 3D printers has fallen below US$1,000. Knowing you can p ...

First series production vehicle with software control

23 hours ago

Siemens has unveiled the first electric series production vehicle with the central electronics and software architecture RACE. This technology, developed in the research project of the same name, replaces ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Dug
not rated yet Jul 30, 2014
How many birds fly mach 3? As well a photo of the micro-drone would have made for a more interesting article.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.