It's a bird... It's a plane... Wait, it's both
Mankind has long been fascinated with the idea of soaring through the sky like a bird, though oddly enough, many of the early flying contraptions were so bizarre as to seem plucked from thin air -- even though nature had conquered that realm eons earlier. Eventually, of course, we figured out how to achieve sustained flight, though achieving sustainable flight has been an entirely new challenge. One engineering firm, however, seems to have made a real breakthrough in efficient aviation -- by mimicking a design that had been over our noses the whole time.If Mother Nature held patents on her designs, the engineers at the Festo Corporation would probably have a lawsuit on their hands. The group recently unveiled one of the most lifelike and natural-seeming flying machines that I have ever seen -- called the SmartBird, inspired by the flight dynamics of a common seagull.
The corporation's web site describes the inspiration behind the clever mechanical-gull:
This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously - with no additional drive mechanism. Its wings not only beat up and down, but also twist at specific angles. This is made possible by an active articulated torsional drive unit, which in combination with a complex control system attains an unprecedented level of efficiency in flight operation. Festo has thus succeeded for the first time in creating an energy-efficient technical adaptation of this model from nature.
By taking such a clear cue from nature's design, Festo says that the SmartBird could help in the development more sustainable flight. "The minimal use of materials and the extremely lightweight construction pave the way for efficiency in resource and energy consumption," says Festo.
There's no telling quite yet if the nature-inspired technological advancement could be used towards improving designs on a larger scale -- but it's nice to know they're looking in the right place for ideas.
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