How soaring birds might inspire intelligent, gliding machines

Sometimes the best inspiration lies in plain view.High up in the sky some birds appear to fly without flapping their wings, just gliding along. They’re catching rides on pockets of air, allowing them to soar along without expending much energy. And scientists are studying how these birds learn such sophisticated soaring in search of insights that could revolutionize how machines learn to fly. If the researchers devise algorithms to mimic the birds’ ability to learn, drones and other flying vehicles could also become smarter and more nimble.When a bird like a vulture, eagle, or hawk is gliding along, they simply have to adjust the angle of their wings to catch rising currents of hot air – called thermals – to maintain altitude or soar a little higher.But this hot air doesn’t…

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