He says he and his engineering students look at wild birds for inspiration, then come back into the lab and train birds there to perform similar feats, which they film with high speed cameras.
[box size=small align=right color=white]Get Involved
Lentink is looking for volunteers. You can apply to borrow his high speed camera and film birds in the field.
[/box]"You really learn about the exquisite maneuvers the birds are capable of making," says Lentink. He and his students have observed phenomena no one's ever seen before, because they happen so fast. For instance, a hummingbird doing what he refers to as "a wet dog shake."
"It was doing it so fast, it was doing it faster than any other vertebrate on the planet," says Lentink. "Twice as fast as a mouse, which was the fastest that had been documented so far."
Passenger jets and big drones do OK -- they can fly through turbulence, or steer around it. But smaller drones don't fare as well with complex flight situations like gusting winds or sudden turns.
"Birds are somehow capable of dealing with that and none of our robots can." And, he says, no one quite knows how birds do it. "Straight flight has been studied very much. How birds turn has been studied much less. There's just a lot we don't know about how birds fly through complicated terrain."
Lentink says by learning from birds, engineers might be able to design better flying robots that could be used in search and rescue or for monitoring crops.
And he's looking for help.