For the smoothest aerial ride around, strap yourself onto a swan’s neck. Well, don’t really — you weigh too much, and even if you didn’t, that could well prove fatal for all parties involved. But the next best thing is some new camera technology that mimics the suspension system-like anatomy of these graceful birds’ long necks, allowing camera drone footage to appear cleaner, crisper, and all around better.
And that’s exactly what researchers at Stanford University in California have been doing, taking inspiration from these water fowl to ensure smoother and more graceful video content.
“Birds improve vision by stabilizing head position relative to their surroundings, while their body is forced up and down during flapping flight,” reads a report summarizing the results of the Stanford study, published recently in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface. “Stabilization is facilitated by compensatory motion of the sophisticated avian head–neck system.”
Much like a car’s suspension system, which greatly reduces the amount of turbulence we experience even as we face changing external conditions at high speeds, birds are able to perform complex aerial maneuvers while keeping their heads completely still. As the Stanford Report notes, “The neck vertebrae and muscles respond with just the right stiffness and flexibility to passively keep the head steady during flapping flight, and even in mild gusts.”
The research team has concluded that drones that closely resemble birds, complete with a set of flapping wings, “could record better images with a swan-inspired passive camera suspension.” Indeed, Stanford graduate student Marina Dimitrov is already working on a prototype for a “swan-inspired passive camera suspension system,” which has yielded promising results in preliminary tests.
This is by no means the first time that scientists have taken inspiration from nature to make technological advancements. Gecko feet have inspired adhesives for use in outer space, while waterbugs have served as the impetus for the development of tiny robots that jump across water. So in spite of all the great improvements we’ve been making in the 21st century, it all goes back to the original innovator — Mother Nature herself.
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