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Engineers Design Flapping Wing Drone That Can Glide and Hover

An international team of engineers has developed a drone prototype that mimics one of the world's fastest birds, the swift.

It is not uncommon for engineers to draw inspiration from nature and incorporate its workings into innovative designs to take humanity a step forward. Researchers from Singapore, Australia, China, and Taiwan have a drone prototype in the making that can hover, dart, glide, brake, and drive, mimicking one of the world's fastest birds, the swift.

The 26-gram ornithopter, in other words, flapping-wing aircraft, is much safer and quieter than the existing quadcopter drones.

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It can perform aggressive bird flight maneuvers

The team, led by the National University of Singapore research scientist Dr. Yao-Wei Chin, has designed the flapping wing drone that can perform aggressive bird flight maneuvers and it is similar in size to a swift or a large moth.

Engineers Design Flapping Wing Drone That Can Glide and Hover
Source: University of South Australia

The engineers have optimized the flapping wing drone to fly in crowded environments near humans. With its new stats, it can glide on air, hover at very low power, and avoid collisions by stopping quickly from fast speeds.

Ornithopters haven't been able to hover or climb

Aerospace engineer Professor Javaan Chahl of the University of South Australia stated, "There are existing ornithopters that can fly forward and backward as well as circling and gliding, but until now, they haven't been able to hover or climb. We have overcome these issues with our prototype, achieving the same thrust generated by a propeller."

Engineers Design Flapping Wing Drone That Can Glide and Hover
Source: University of South Australia

"The triple roles of flapping wings for propulsion, lift and drag enable us to replicate the flight patterns of aggressive birds by simple tail control. Essentially, the ornithopter drone is a combination of a paraglider, aeroplane, and helicopter."

Possible applications

While there haven't been applications of commercialized ornithopters for surveillance, its agility and talents make it a possibly perfect fit for a lot of applications. Crowd and traffic monitoring, information gathering, and surveying wildlife could be among its numerous uses.

It could also see use in airports, chasing birds away that could get sucked into jet engines. It could also pollinate indoor vertical farms without damaging the crops which is almost an impossible feat for the rotary-propelled quadcopters that could accidentally shred the goods.

The project was published in Science Robotics.

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