New video techniques are revealing secrets of flight that could produce better robots


When roboticists want to give their creation a specific skill, they often turn to the natural world for inspiration. Boston Dynamic’s CHEETAH robot can run faster than 29 MPH, thanks to a combination of foot, leg and body movements that are inspired by living cheetahs. But before they can copy nature, roboticists need to know how an animal actually moves. Some animals are so fast or so rare that no one knows their exact motions.

A mechanical engineering professor at Stanford University faced that problem when he started researching birds to build a better flying robot. Thousands have never been filmed with a high quality camera, leaving their flight mechanics a mystery. He started shooting videos with an ultra-high-speed camera and asked his students to take videos too. The resulting footage has revealed brand new bird behavior and some of the finer points of bird flight.

“Our camera shoots 100 times…

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