Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Scientists trying to mimic the design of hummingbirds with nanorobots

From Evolution News.

Excerpt:

In the Illustra documentary Flight, Dr. Thomas Emell of the University of Florida asks us to consider the speed of the synapses firing during the birds’ wingbeats (more than 100 times a second) and heartbeats (1,250 times a minute). Now, we see that each wingbeat, taking place in less than 10 milliseconds, involves even more control: tuning the wing shape at each position to optimize lift.

Masateru Maeda, a PhD student at Chiba University in Japan, captured the footage.

The ultimate aim of his measurements of the movements of the wings is to copy their function in the design of flying robots.

If something works, it’s “not happening by accident,” Discovery Institute Fellow Paul Nelson reminds us in the Illustra film. He describes how the unique shape of the shoulder bone allows the wing to invert on the reverse stroke, creating lift on both strokes. Now, Maeda has found that hovering also requires the hummingbirds to be able to sense their wings’ shapes and respond accordingly.

Mr Maeda said that the birds must have a very acute sense of their wings’ shape in order to remain so still in the air.

“If the wing shape isn’t optimised,” he explained, “it will fail to produce lift and the bird will start to sink.

“So it must be able to sense this and correct the shape of its wings.”

What this implies is that the wing shape (involving control of the flight feathers’ ability to slide as they flap), is under instantaneous control of the hummingbirds’ central nervous system. The speed of signals from brain to flight muscles now becomes even more astonishing.

In the documentary, viewers see a robotic hummingbird called the Nano Air Vehicle able to hover in mid-air. Its wings, however, perform simple back-and-forth movements while its stiff body floats upright in a fixed position. It has no internal guidance system, no heart or brain, and no fine control of wing shape. Without the human operator and his joystick, it would crash into the nearest wall. No wonder Nelson says that, despite its being a “sensational piece of engineering,” it is still “light years behind the bird that inspired its creation.”

What the Evolution News article didn’t mention is that even if the scientists and engineers can mimic the flying capability of hummingbirds by intelligently designing robots, they are missing out on a valuable aspect of what makes a humminbird a hummingbird. Can you guess what it is?

Take a look at this video:

Isn’t that amazing? Now, everyone knows that I am huge admirer of birds, and I have had birds as pets for most of my life. I know what these amazing little creatures can do firsthand. Not only can they fly, but they can build relationships with human beings – trusting them not to hurt them. No robot hummingbird can do that. Hummingbirds are exquisitely designed, and their design cries out for an explanation.

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One Response

  1. Stan says:

    Have you ever seen the high-speed x-ray videos of a hummingbird flying and drinking? AMAZING! There is a structure behind the head that allows them to keep their beak in place while their bodies or the food source moves. It screams “design”.

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