Stanford researchers' PigeonBot provides insight into mechanics of bird wings

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Jan. 16 (UPI) -- A team of scientists at Stanford University created a robot from pigeon feathers to better understand the mechanics of how birds fly.

The team described how they used the robot called PigeonBot comprised of 40 elastically connected feathers and machine manipulated wrist and finger joints to better understand how a bird's wings change during flight in a paper published in Science Robotics this week.


"Since the Wright Flyer, engineers have strived to develop flying machines with morphing wings that can control flight as deftly as birds," the paper states. "Birds morph their wing planform parameters simultaneously -- including sweep, span and area -- in a way that has proven to be particularly challenging to embody robotically."

The team placed the pigeon feathers onto an artificial skeleton and combined it with a propeller, artificial tail and rudder, controllers and sensors before testing it in a wind tunnel and outdoors.

"You can simply use the cadaver of a bird and there are many in museums, to develop a robot without harming any animal to study their flight," Stanford professor of mechanical engineering, David Lentink, said.

Lentink said the motions bird wings make are seen as more efficient than aircraft wings.


"It actually enables birds to fly further, longer, maneuver much better," Lentink said. "I really love aircraft as well, but it just doesn't compare to a bird."

He added that the team discovered the feathers fall into place when a bird moves its wrist or finger, noting that when those pieces move "all the feathers move too and they do this automatically."

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