Friday, March 20, 2015

Measuring How Birds Take Flight

Measuring How Birds Take Flight

Understanding exactly how birds lift off has proven to be difficult for scientists. However, engineers at Stanford have created a device that can precisely and humanely measure the forces generated by a bird’s wings during flight. The work can provide the answer to the many mysteries of how birds take flight. These answers can even aid in the design of innovative and more efficient unmanned aerial vehicles, such as drones. The measurements of the lift forces of birds in free flight has been attempted many times before, with every technique producing uncertain results. Many of the techniques considered are inhumane to the birds being tested, including one technique where a laser is required for measurement. However, this new device allows the birds to fly freely in a nice environment and still provide clean and precise data. It features highly sensitive force sensors located on the bottom of a box the shape and size of a large birdcage with two perches inside. When the bird flies from each perch, the beat of its wings pushes against the air, which then pushes against the bottom of the box and sucks down the ceiling slightly.These forces are recorded and provide a precise measurement for each stroke of the bird’s wings, with the sensors taking a measurement every 1 millisecond. The system is so sensitive that the air conditioning in the lab has to be turned off to avoid the vibrations from the ventilation system being recorded. They have tested the device with two parrots and have already gotten interesting results. They have discovered that, during their downwards stroke, birds produce life equal to two times their body weight, while producing virtually no lift on their upwards stroke. This new device has made it possible to effectively understand how animals fly which can improve designs for drones and get instant and certain feedback.

Written by: Imari Clement

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