Ornithopter Drones Are Cool, But Have a Ways to Go

Ornithopter (aircraft that fly by flapping their wings) drones are a very cool idea. In fact, copying the natural flight of birds and insects has been a human interest since Da Vinci, who famously drew designs of ornithopter machines. While there is probably some corner of DARPA that has made a fully functioning ornithopter drone, that tech in not available to the masses and in the meantime we have to settle for “attempts” at ornithopter drones.

Recent news highlighted the work of researchers at the University of Bristol in the UK who tried to replicate the landing motion of birds in a fixed-wing aircraft. The researchers noticed that birds come in at low altitude and preform a “deep stall”, meaning they sweep their wings forward at an upward angle to effectively kill their airspeed, and then plop down unto the ground. It took the team of researchers at Bristol over 5,000 attempts but they finally got the ornithopter-like drone to land.

This reminds the team at Drone Dossier of another ornithopter-like drone that was developed last year in Switzerland. This drone mimicked how birds retract and extend their wings with flexible carbon fiber enforced nylon wings. It appears to operate much better than the the work of the Bristol researchers.

In early February, there was reports of a fully functioning  bat ornithopter made by students from the University of Illinois and Cal Tech. This one looks legit, but if you watch video of its performance it’s pathetic, for lack of a better word.

We are not trying to bad mouth the idea of ornithopters, in fact we think they are cool. Maybe someday it can be done right. In the meantime, quadcopters and VTOL fixed-wing drones fill the void just fine.

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