Sometimes, when we hear about a new type of tech, we’re not sure exactly what the larger point is. In this case, science has come up with something that is both very cool AND very useful. A team of researchers is developing a drone that flies, and lands, just like a bird. Not just a great feat of engineering, the its also programmed to THINK like a bird.
Drones with fixed wings (like a plane, rather than a helicopter that has rotating blades) tend to be hardier, faster, and perform better. However they also need a runway to take off and land on, making them less than ideal in most situations, which is why we don’t see them as often. Nature, however, already solved the problem of landing without a runway a very long time ago!
When a swooping bird comes in to land, it dives low and then, tipping its wings up, slightly pulls itself up before slowing and finally touching down. This manoeuvre is called a ‘deep stall’ and it’s the inspiration for the new drone being developed by a team of researchers from British company BMT Defence Services and the University of Bristol.
The ‘deep stall’ is a far more complicated procedure than birds tend to make it look, with every breeze and change of angle needing the bird to make instinctive adjustments to its wings. This complicated piloting cannot be achieved remotely by drone pilots, so the researchers also built a bird-like brain that learned from its mistakes. After some virtual training and 5000 bumpy test landings, it successfully taught itself how to land.
The drone is being developed as part of a UK defence programme, specifically figuring out how to land on a ship, so we shouldn’t expect to see birdlike drones swooping round the skies any time soon. However, the developers are really excited for the future of the technology. The flexibility of a drone that can fly and land anywhere means that the applications are endless, from simple package delivery to aiding the Emergency Services.