Birds to Help Give Flight to New Uncrewed Aerial Systems

The University of California, Davis, is launching a bird flight research center using a nearly $3 million grant from the Department of Defense. Led by Christina Harvey, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at UC Davis, and Michelle Hawkins, a professor in the School of Veterinary Medicine and director of the California Raptor Center, the goal is to inform the next generation of Uncrewed Aerial System (UAS) vehicles.

The women will use motion capture and photogrammetry (using photography to measure the distance between objects) to create 3D models of the wing shapes created by birds in flight. By using multiple species of birds, they can understand how different types of wing shapes move around complex environments.

The bird flight research center is the first of this type of facility in the country and will be the first to pair motion capture and photogrammetry to quantify flight. They will use data from multiple infrared cameras tracking reflective markers on the birds’ wings, body, and tail alongside photogrammetry to create 3D models of the birds in flight, using that information to aid rehabilitation efforts and to design truly maneuverable aircraft.

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