Engineers show off light-wing prototypes that can hover, glide and dive in the air.

Robotic researchers often seek inspiration from nature, and some drone research teams have the same idea. An international team of scientists, for example, has created a drone that can flap its wings like a bird, hovering, taxiing and swooping in the air, but is fairly light in weight. Although it is still in the prototype stage, researchers believe it has unique functionality and can be used effectively in a variety of scenarios.

Engineers show off light-wing prototypes that can hover, glide and dive in the air.

Dr. Yao-Wei Chin shows off prototype of a winged drone (from University of South Australia)

The prototype, known as the Ornithopter, was inspired by birds that can move quickly in the air, meaning it can fly by flapping its wings. Earlier, Stanford University also demonstrated a technique to protect drones from impact with wings.

The wing-flap, which weighs just 26g (920oz), is at the University of South Australia. The aerospace engineers who designed it claim edited it safely in busy environments and did things that ordinary quadcopters could nmostly do, such as taxiing and hovering with minimal power and stopping at high speeds.

Javaan Chahl, an aeronautical engineer at the university, says the efficiency and speed of existing helicopters are too slow and inflexible. But their newly developed flapping prototype overcomes these problems, raising the wings, thrusting like an airplane, with a similar thrust to a parachute.

Combined with these features, the team was able to replicate aggressive flight patterns similar to birds with simple tail controls. In its current state, the wing-pumping machine can pounce slowly. At the same time, the light weight makes it safer than the standard quadcopter.

The research team envisions the use of the wing-pumping machine in the field of monitoring, and hopes to further refine its design to enable it to perform other tasks. For example, carrying payloads for pollination on indoor vertical farms, or bird driving at airports, and surveying forests and wildlife.

Details of the study have been published in the recently published journal Science Robotics, originally titled “Flapping Wing drones show off skills.”