Drone has bird-like features including precision flying feathers

ÉCOLE POLYTECHNIQUE FÉDÉRALE DE LAUSANNE or EPFL has researchers working on a drone that uses bio-inspired design to create a drone that is able to fly using some of the same techniques that birds use. The drone has the ability to spread or close its wings while flying to allow it to maneuver and fly in higher winds. Birds use these same techniques when in flight, when the bird turns it does so by extending one wing and contracting the other.

This new drone can do the same thing using feather-like surfaces on the tips of the wings. The drone was created by Dario Floreano and his team to meet various aerodynamic requirements. The drone needed to be able to fly between obstacles, make sharp turns, and withstand strong winds. The wings of the drone and change geometry in flight to meet all the criteria.

The movable part of the wings is on the outer aspect of the wing and works similarly to how a bird's quill features work. Quill feathers are the large feathers on the edge of the wings. "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," explained Matteo di Luca.

One of the biggest challenges that the team faced was designing and building the morphing mechanism of the wings. The wings are made mainly of composite materials to reduce weight and optimize strength. Floreano said, "With the foldable wings, we discovered that we didn't need ailerons to help the drone turn. By changing the wingspan and surface area during flight, we could make it turn automatically." The designers think that this drone could be particularly well suited to low altitude flight in urban environments where winds change quickly.