Bird Flies Through Laser Light, Wears Goggles, Provides Information On Flight Research

First Posted: Dec 06, 2016 04:29 AM EST

A parrolet named "Obi" wears goggles and flies through laser light to give information on how birds fly and how flying robots and drones are designed. This study could also aid the scientists in understanding the way animals create a lift to fly.

The findings of the study were printed in the issue of Bioinformatics and Biomimetics on Dec. 6. It was led by Eric Gutierrez, a graduate student, and worked with David Lentink, a Stanford mechanical engineer. They trained Obi so that they can gauge the vortices it creates during flight. 

Diana Chin, a graduate student in the Lentink lab and a co-author of the study, said that the goal of their study was to compare very commonly used models in the literature to figure out how much lift a bird or other flying animal generates based off its wake. She further said that what they have found was that all three models they tried out were very inaccurate because they make assumptions that are not necessarily true.

In the research, the team created a parrolet-sized google using lenses from human laser safety goggles, 3D-printed sockets and veterinary tape. They trained Obi to wear the goggles, which have some reflective markers on the side so they could monitor the bird's velocity.

Obi then flew through a laser sheet that illumined nontoxic, micron-sized aerosol particles. As he flew, the wing motion disturbed the particles to create a detailed record of the vortices produced by the flight, according to

The team recorded everything on high-speed video. They also discovered that the little "air tornadoes" broke down after only about three wingbeats. These were not formulas predicted. They said that they have seen this pattern in airliners but never in birds. This indicates that some of their ideas about bird flight might lift off, according to The Verge.

The study also helps in developing flying robots based on the information about the animal flight. Lentink said that many people look at the results in the animal flight for understanding how robotic wings could be designed better. She further said that now that they have shown that the equations that people have used are not as reliable as the community hoped they were. They need new studies, new methods to really inform this design process much more reliably.

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