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Aerial Design Tips From the Hummingbird

Could a bird be the inspiration for new design ideas?

Researchers at Stanford University think so.

Specifically, they’re looking at hummingbirds for tips, as they seek to build the next generation of aerial search-and-rescue vehicles.

With a hummingbird able to flap its wings between 12 and 80 times per second, the Stanford team is using high-speed camera to slow the movement of the birds in flight to a remarkable 10,000 frames per second. It means they can turn one second into a full minute of slow-motion action.

The goal? To see how hummingbirds operate so efficiently and effectively – and see if they can provide insight on how to design the next generation of micro-air vehicles.

Send in the “Birds”

Mechanical engineer, Amanda Stowers, says they’re trying to replicate the hummingbird’s ability to accelerate and switch directions. If they’re able to do so, the team sees a day where swarms of small, agile, hummingbird-like machines, packed with sensors and cameras, can be deployed into tight spots more effectively than fixed-wing planes and aid in search-and-rescue missions.

Fellow designer, Rivers Ingersoll, explains: “If there’s an earthquake and search-and-rescue gets there and they want to know where bodies are, they can send up a flock of these micro-air vehicles to fly around, look for signs of humans and send the search teams right there. So there are plenty of applications to it.”

Granted, it’s not going to be easy to re-engineer nature and millions of years of avian evolution – a fact that Stowers and Ingersoll accept. But they’re confident that advances in technology and materials will soon make it possible.