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Fly like a bird: Artificial intelligence to assist drones navigating air currents




From many millennia humans have looked to birds soaring in the sky and had dreams of flying.

In the past 115 years, humankind has gotten pretty good at the whole powered flight thing. However, there is still plenty of knowledge we can draw from the natural world to help us fly more efficiently.

The Conversation reports that researchers based in California and Italy have sought to better understand the way soaring birds (such as albatross, hawks or eagles) find and navigate thermal updrafts to soar.

Thermals can form and dissipate at short intervals. If you’ve ever observed soaring birds fly, you’ll notice they don’t constantly flap their wings to stay aloft. Rather, they keep their wings outstretched and intuitively navigate wind currents and thermal updrafts, meaning they can stay flying for long periods while expending very little energy.

Albatross, the largest flying bird species in the world are particularly adept at this. They manage to sometimes fly an incredible 10,000 miles (16,000 kilometers) in a single journey, using their massive three meter wing span to glide across wind currents in the sky or emanating from the movement of the sea’s waves. Albatross have even been known to circumnavigate the globe in just 46 days! While glider pilots can use on board instruments to detect updrafts they are still not quite as effective at doing so as soaring birds.

A glider navigating air currents near Mount Cook in New Zealand. Credit: Glide Omarama.


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