"We were inspired by birds," said researcher Matteo di Luca in press materials. "They can radically transform the size and shape of their wings because they have an articulated skeleton that is controlled by muscles and covered in feathers that overlap when the wings are folded."
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The drone's synthetic wings do much the same, folding and overlapping like a fan depending on conditions. This could make the drone particularly good at flying among skyscrapers in urban environments where winds change rapidly.
Another prototype drone, from Imperial College London, is inspired by waterfowl who can dive from significant heights into water, grab a fish, and then fly back out again.
The AquaMAV - or Morphing Aquatic Micro Air Vehicle - is also able to dive directly from the air into water at high speeds. According to the paper abstract, the real trick is getting back into the air: "After a dive, the robot uses a powerful water jet to accelerate free of the water and return to flight, allowing it to return water samples and data for analysis."
Some of the most potentially groudbreaking research in the new issue is in very early stages, said Lentink, who spent more than a year assembling and editing the new issue. For instance, biologists and engineers at Aachen University in Germany are looking into how owls are able to fly in near silence when stalking prey.