Oct. 1 - Researchers at Stanford University are looking to one of nature's most agile creatures - the hummingbird - for design tips as they build the next generation of aerial search and rescue vehicles. Using high-speed cameras, the engineers are slowing down time to study the birds in flight. Ben Gruber reports.
Armed with a camera capable of recording ten thousand frames of video per second, Rivers Ingersoll is looking for hummingbirds. He wants to capture them in flight, so he can study them later, slow motion. Hummingbirds flap their wings between 12 and 80 times per second when hovering, speeds the human eye can't process. But with his camera, Ingersoll can turn a single second into more than a minute of slow motion video . (SOUNDBITE) (English) RIVERS INGERSOLL, MECHANICAL ENGINEER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "You film some manoeuvre and you press stop and you look at the footage afterwards and slowed down you see things you never saw before." And what Ingersoll and his fellow researchers at Stanford University's mechanical engineering lab see... is one of the most agile and energy-efficient animals in the world. They're studying the birds in search of clues that will give engineers like Amanda Stowers insight on how to design the next generation of micro-air vehicles...small, agile machines that can fly into tight spots more efficiently than fixed winged planes. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AMANDA STOWERS, MECHANICAL ENGINEER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "Flapping winged or rotary helicopters can be more efficient just because of the differences in size." Stowers says she is trying to replicate a hummingbirds ability to accelerate and switch directions. Ultimately she and Ingersoll, envision a day where swarms of hummingbird-like machines, packed with sensors and cameras, can be deployed to aid in search and rescue efforts. (SOUNDBITE) (English) AMANDA STOWERS, MECHANICAL ENGINEER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "It's definitely possible to generate more complicated behaviour and go over a much larger area of you have more than one." (SOUNDBITE) (English) RIVERS INGERSOLL, MECHANICAL ENGINEER, STANFORD UNIVERSITY, SAYING: "If there is an earthquake somewhere and search and rescue gets there and they want to know where bodies are. They can send up a flock of these micro-air vehicles and they can fly around and look for signs of humans and send the search and rescue right there. So there is plenty of applications to it." Ingersoll and Stowers concede that re-engineering millions of years of evolution is a difficult task.. but they are confident that advances in technology and materials will soon make it possible for their research to take flight.