That Drone Up In The Sky? It Might Be Built Out Of A Dead Bird

In a lot of ways, it seems like we’re in the “plateau of productivity” part of the hype cycle when it comes to drones. UAVs have pretty much been reduced to practice and have become mostly an off-the-shelf purchase these days, with a dwindling number of experimenters pushing the envelope with custom builds, like building drones out of dead birds.

These ornithopomorphic UAVs come to us from the New Mexico Insitute of Mining and Technology, where [Mostafa Hassanalian] runs the Autonomous Flight and Aquatic Systems lab. While looking into biomimetics, [Dr. Hassanalian] hit upon the idea of using taxidermy birds as an airframe for drones. He and his team essentially reverse-engineered the birds to figure out how much payload they’d be able to handle, and added back the necessary components to make them fly again.

From the brief video in the tweet embedded below, it’s clear that they’ve come up with a huge variety of feathered drones. Some are clearly intended for testing the aerodynamics of taxidermy wings in makeshift wind tunnels, while others are designed to actually fly. Propulsion seems to run the gamut from bird-shaped RC airplanes with a propeller mounted in the beak to true ornithopters. Some of the drones clearly have a conventional fuselage with feathers added, which makes sense for testing various subsystems, like wings and tails.

It’s easy to mock something like this, and the jokes practically write themselves. But when you think about it, the argument for a flying bird-shaped robot is pretty easy to make from an animal behavior standpoint. If you want to study how birds up close while they’re flying, what better way than to send in a robot that looks similar to the other members of the flock? And besides, evolution figured out avian flight about 150 million years ago, so studying how birds do it is probably going to teach us something.

40 thoughts on “That Drone Up In The Sky? It Might Be Built Out Of A Dead Bird

    1. Clarkson is right about a few things regarding the Germans. Their pop music is top of the list.

      The country should be divided again.
      As punishment for inventing techno/resuscitating disco.
      12 pieces this time!

      They could have taken up funk if they insisted on dancing. German dancing looks so much like marching the French surrender.

      1. Even more dead birds around any tall building, they just get routinely cleaned up (by stray cats if anything) and you don’t pay any attention to them even if you see one.

    1. Well… it must cut a bit of your humanity to buy plastic wrapped steak and blinding yourself about the meat industry.
      If you prefer it the other way around, you should consider zoroastrian funerals.

  1. Talk about the ultimate camouflage for a kamikaze drone…

    And if you kept the proportions, you could probably scale it up in size and just fly it a little higher during the target acquisition phase.

    A downside would be the annihilation of the bird population in war zones since you couldn’t identify friend or foe until it’s too late.

    1. SF operators have had bird shaped eyes in the sky for decades now.

      You can even find pictures on Pakistani news sites (you could anyway, might be scrubbed). You can tell they are American because the ‘charge date’ written on the battery pack is correctly formatted and it’s using an APC folding prop.

      1. I recall stories from a few years ago that Palestinians wouldn’t talk outside if there were birds nearby. They assumed they would actually be Israeli spy drones that looked like birds. Probably true so e of the times.

        1. Psychological warfare.

          e.g. Me flying my RC ‘predator drone’ in proximity to paranoid political group demonstrations of all kinds. Living in CA it’s a target rich environment.

          Protip: Put a ringer into the demonstration to see the drone and call it out. Otherwise your time will have been wasted. Disappear the drone shortly after to avoid good pics being taken.

  2. I use to fly some of my planes at the local model aircraft club.
    I discovered a funny behavior with my planner besides a grain field in wish there were a lots of birds. When I started doing circles in the sky, all the birds suddenly took off to go elsewhere, it seems that (from a bird point of view), my plane was seen as a bird of prey. I repeated this several times, and it triggered the same behavior.
    My planner is blue, and not looks like a bird. No bird killed :)

  3. 20 years ago we never saw more than 1 buzzard during the summer, none the rest of the year. 5 years ago they’re everywhere over town most the year round. In the last 3 years all these turkey buzzards have been replaced by european black vultures. Was it a social thing as in “buzz off buzzard” or we are seeing BV2.0? Either bird, what an airframe for loitering and observing! Birds aren’t real focuses on pigeons not these far more suitable models. I’m also seeing more hawks even a bald eagle.

  4. Some sad day in the future, when all of The Rolling Stones are dead and gone – they’ll use a similar technology to keep their dead bodies on tour.
    I’m pretty sure they’ve already done this with Keith’s dead body.

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