A recent study compared hummingbirds with the world’s most advanced micro-helicopters, and found that the hummingbirds are actually just slightly better flyers than the man-made machines.
Researchers found that the most physically adept hummingbirds are 20 percent more efficient than the micro-helicopters, at least when it comes to the power that is required to lift their weight.
However, the normal hummingbird was found to be just about on par with the helicopters, which show just how far technology has come. The type of helicopter used was a 16g helicopter which was used by the military in Afghanistan.
Apparently, measuring how well the hummingbirds can fly was not easy task, explained lead researcher professor David Lentink, who teaches at Stanford University in California.
“Imagine a 4g bird,” explained Lentink. “The forces they generate are tiny. As a result the drag of a hummingbird wing has never been measured accurately.”
In order to measure just how much power is required to lift the bird’s weight, the researchers used a device called a wing spinner. They used the wings of hummingbird specimens taken from museums for the test. They also video-recorded the wings moving in slow-motion to better see how they move.
“By combining the wings’ motion with the drag [that we measured in the lab], we were able to calculate the aerodynamic power hummingbird muscles need to provide to sustain hover,” explained Lentink.
Lentink and his team found that some of the birds performed better than the helicopters. But, for the most part, the birds were right on par with the machines.
“This shows that if we design the wings well, we can build drones that hover as efficiently, if not more efficiently, as hummingbirds,” Lentink said to BBC.
“Clearly we are not even close to hummingbirds in many other design metrics, such as wind gust tolerance, visual flight control through clutter, to name a few. But if we focus on aerodynamic efficiency, we are closer than we perhaps ever imagined possible.”
The study was published in the Royal Society journal Interface.