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Researchers Built a Wind Tunnel to Study Birds and Build Better Drones

Stanford researchers are trying to learn more about how the flying animals work.

by Louise Matsakis
Apr 26 2016, 10:00am

There's still a lot to learn about how birds fly, like how they so skillfully navigate turbulence and changing wind patterns. Uncovering how they're able to do this could help humans better design small aircraft, like drones.

In a new video, researchers from Stanford University show off the sweet bird tunnel they built in order to try and figure out some of the flying animal's secrets.

"Birds are masters of maneuverability, in ways that we are only beginning to understand," Dan Quinn, a postdoctoral research fellow who worked on the project says in the video.

The wind tunnel allows researchers to study how a bird flies up close, in ways that would be impossible in the animal's natural habitat. Researchers can vary the speed the wind inside the tunnel extremely precisely, and it's equipped with a turbulence generation system to simulate unsteady movement in the air.

So far, the researchers have been using small birds, such as parrotlets and lovebirds in their experiments in the tunnel. Ultimately, they're trying to figure out how birds are able to skillfully navigate complex conditions, and stay on course even when the skies get choppy.

The scientists are especially concerned with finding out how birds fly in cities, where winds are often unpredictable. There's also the fact that in the future, most small drones are going to take flight in urban environments, so studying conditions there is the best way to translate their research to real-world applications.

Get ready for bird-like drones, coming soon to a city near you.