How Bird-Inspired Wings Multiply the Autonomy of a Drone

If there’s one thing drones need to improve on right now, it’s battery life. In a device that is an aircraft itself, this factor defines its autonomy. Ultimately much of its usefulness can be measured by this decisive aspect. And to increase autonomy, a team of researchers from Brown University and the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne has drawn a path. It is about incorporating wings inspired by birds.

Bird-Inspired Wings

But today’s drones are not like that on a whim. The smallest ones, which the researchers have noticed, have wings of a certain thickness and a short length. They are designed in this way to cope with the wind. Under normal conditions the flight is comfortable, but in the presence of gusts of air, the small aircraft may lose stability. The type of wings that are manufactured provide this stability.

However, Brown’s researchers and Cole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne have chosen to focus on nature. They have noticed that some small birds have other types of wings. And from there they have taken theirs. They are long, thin wings.

These bird-inspired wings allow a 100-gram drone to fly for around three hours. It is four times more than what current drones of this weight offer. The trick is in aeronautics oriented to stretch the wings.

Normally the wings of drones and other aircraft have rounded edges. This keeps the airflow as close to the wing surface as possible. However, scientists have found that insects and some small birds have flat wings. This separates the air flows more sharply. Lowers peak aerodynamic efficiency but compensates for this with increased wing lengthening. Applied to drones, this principle allows a wingspan with a large elongation that increases autonomy.

Bird-inspired wings, an example of biomimicry

The work of these scientists is an example of biomimicry. The concept is defined as the technology that emerges inspired by nature. It is not something new. The ancient Greeks already observed nature for creative purposes. And Leonardo da Vinci spent hours studying animals to learn about the mechanics of the movement.

In modern times, inspiration in nature is very present in the design. So much so that the wildest shapes and movements can inspire improvements in sectors such as aeronautics. The imitation of animals and other biological bodies offers curious surprises. For starters, the Eiffel Tower was based on a femur.