Researchers at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (New Mexico Tech) have made a breakthrough in drone technology by converting dead birds into functional drones. And now, they are considering the integration of additional technologies, such as fifth-generation (5G) mobile and artificial intelligence (AI), to further enhance these bio-drones.
Led by Mostafa Hassanalian, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at New Mexico Tech, the team initially purchased bird parts from Amazon and attached them to existing drones to achieve a more lifelike and natural flight pattern. Subsequently, they acquired birds that had died naturally from a taxidermist and incorporated two different types of motors into the bird drones, allowing for flapping and soaring motions.
This research shows potential applicability in various fields, including military or border surveillance. The drone technology could also be used for monitoring wildlife, such as migratory geese, without causing disturbances or posing risks to live birds. Furthermore, these cadaver drones could be effective in diverting living flocks away from airports, where they can potentially endanger aviation safety. In fact, larger birds with strong talons could potentially carry packages or payloads. Hassanalian pointed out, “If you look at the eagles, they can catch a goat and they can carry it.”
Hassanalian highlights the benefits of environmental monitoring and aviation. By using taxidermy birds and reverse engineering their flight patterns, the team can create more nature-friendly drones that can emulate the characteristics of real birds. He stated, “If we use artificial materials, they cannot fly with the same characteristics as the birds. We can get the taxidermy birds, play with them, do the reverse engineering, make them alive again, and use them as a drone.”
While the United States has strict policies against the ownership of dead eagles or other avian predators, Hassanalian suggests that using predatory birds could be a viable solution for deterring flocks from airports. By obtaining permission to use taxidermist birds, turning them into drones, and flying them around airports, the team believes that this could significantly reduce bird-related risks to airplanes.
At present, the research team has primarily focused on the design aspects to ensure that the birds-turned-drones can fly. This involved reverse engineering to understand various factors, such as wing flapping angles, frequency, and flying speed of living birds. The next step is to determine what type of technologies can be integrated into these bird drones. Possibilities include installing cameras beneath the birds’ necks or in their eyes for data collection and analysis.
Currently, the drones can fly for around 20 minutes. To address this limitation, the researchers plan to investigate how birds land, potentially allowing the bio-drones to recharge before resuming flight. Moreover, they are considering the incorporation of 5G capabilities and AI to extend the drones’ range and improve efficiency. Hassanalian explained, “Machine learning or artificial intelligence could help them to save more energy or adjust their flight mode… in order to determine when they should glide, when they should hover, when they should flap. This is something that probably in the next couple of years we will be working on. With 5G and artificial intelligence, we think this will be a revolution in this type of drone.”
The conversion of birds into functioning drones represents a significant breakthrough in drone technology. This innovative approach has potential applications in various sectors and could revolutionize the field of environmental monitoring and aviation. In the coming years, the integration of 5G and AI could further enhance the efficiency and capabilities of these bio-bots. As further research and development are conducted, these bird drones may shape the future of drone technology and its practical applications.