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Braking Mid-Air to Prioritize Safety Over Energy or Speed

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A Harris' hawk.

The researchers discovered that the hawks follow a flight path that slows them down to a safe speed but minimizes the distance from the perch at which they stall.

Credit: University of Oxford (U.K.)

A team of researchers at the U.K.'s University of Oxford used computer simulations and motion capture to simulate how birds optimize landing maneuvers for an accurate descent, in the hope that knowledge could help the development of small aircraft capable of perching like birds.

The researchers recorded on motion capture cameras the movements of four Harris' hawks flying between perches 1,500 times.

Computer models of those recordings showed the hawks control their flight to guarantee the safest landing conditions when perching, even if it requires them to expend more time and energy.

Oxford's Graham Taylor said understanding how animals learn complex motor skills like flying might help revolutionize robots to perform the same tasks.

From University of Oxford (U.K.)
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