February 8, 2018 by Signe Brinkløv, ScienceNordic
South American oilbirds combine echolocation and extremely sensitive vision to find their way through dark caves. Decoding how they do this could help develop autonomous drones.
The Danish Drone Strategy aims to put Denmark at the forefront of state-of-the-art drone technology. Both the number of commercial users and authorised drone operators are rising. But for security reasons, the law requires drones to operate within the drone pilot's range of sight.
This limits the use of drones to good visibility conditions and limits their full potential. For example, routine monitoring tasks could be hindered by foggy or cloudy weather. And emergency situations, such as a forest fire or a burning building, could benefit from a drone controlled not by a pilot on the ground, but autonomously via automatic recognition of obstacles.
The question is, how can we further develop and optimise drone technology to avoid such concerns?
Oilbirds, form South America, also known as the guácharo, might hold the answer. But before we get to that, let's consider some examples of how we imitate nature.
Active sensory perception and biomimetic inspiration
By mimicking the shape and function of nature, biologists and engineers have created so-called biomimetic robots that are experts in parkour, able to hear like a lizard, and smell like a sniffer dog.