A Flying Robot!

As the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread across the globe, ATR’s number one priority is to keep our people safe. We have updated our safety, hygiene, travel and work organisation recommendations, to contain the spread of the virus and protect our people. We remain committed to supporting our customers in these temporary, and yet difficult circumstances, and this is why we will also continue to share with you on the blog some inspirations that are giving us hope and energy. Take care of yourself and have a safe trip from your couch to the vast country of imagination!


American researchers have created PigeonBot, a biohybrid robot that can fold its wings like a pigeon. This odd, remote-controlled machine made of cardboard, electronics and real feathers should help us better understand bird flight in order to improve the handling of our aircraft, especially in the event of turbulence.

Biomimicry has always been a source of inspiration for scientists. From Icarus to Leonardo da Vinci, bird flight in particular has inspired generations of inventors. The latest example comes from the United States, where researchers at Stanford University in California have developed PigeonBot, a biohybrid robot, with the potential to revolutionise aircraft wing design.


A propeller and feathers

This curious drone consists of a cardboard body, a propeller engine for the head, and articulated wings, featuring forty real pigeon feathers (twenty for each wing). And that’s not just a cosmetic detail: real feathers are used for their slight adhesion properties to create a hook-latch system, a sort of “velcro” effect. While studying the wings in a wind tunnel, the researchers observed that the feathers stick together when the wing extends and separate when it folds, making it more resistant to turbulence. In addition, three joints, just like the pigeon has, are used to precisely control the position of the feathers and the wingspan to influence the trajectory. During in-flight tests, manipulating the “wrist” and “fingers” showed significant gains in handling.

“Aerospace and materials engineers can now begin to rethink how to design and make wings and materials that morph as skilfully as birds do” David Lentink, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford

Safer aircraft

While this may all look like a lot of fun, the experiment is actually quite serious. This technique could help make aircraft even safer when applied to aviation. “An aircraft reproducing our model would have much better handling performance. Especially in the event of turbulence,” explains David Lentink, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Stanford and author of two articles about the study in the following journals: Science and Science Robotics.

Already, Lentink is considering the next step: sampling species representative of all other types of flight, with a view to extending the experiment to other hybrid robots inspired by other, radically different types of bird flight.

Photo credit images : ©Lentink Lab / Stanford University