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Bird-like drone uses feathers for a more precise flight path

"It is extremely difficult to find the right balance between aerodynamic efficiency and the weight of the device," explained researcher Stefano Mintchev.

By
Brooks Hays

LAUSANNE, Switzerland, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- A new bio-inspired drone uses bird-like feathers to adjust its wingspan while in flight. The ability allows for a more precise flight path and more exact maneuvers.

Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, or EPFL, wanted to develop a drone capable of tighter high-speed turns -- a drone able to fly through narrow passageways and handle high winds. The scientists realized quill feathers, larger feathers at the tip of a bird's wing, could help them design a more agile and precise flyer.

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"We were inspired by birds: they can radically transform the size and shape of their wings because they have an articulated skeleton that is controlled by muscles and covered in feathers that overlap when the wings are folded," researcher Matteo di Luca explained in a news release.

Realizing quill wings in a form compatible with the drone wasn't easy.

"It is extremely difficult to find the right balance between aerodynamic efficiency and the weight of the device," explained Stefano Mintchev.

Airplane wings use ailerons, or wing flaps, to turn. The retractable quill feathers adapted for the drone make ailerons unnecessary. The craft can turn by extending one wing tip and retracting the other.

Researchers described their new, more capable flyer in the journal Interface Focus.

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