The July 2022 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Fly Like A Bird

Flapping wings could revolutionize aircraft design

10 min read
Fly Like A Bird
Illustration: John MacNeill

A silvery airplane appears on the horizon. At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary about the small dot moving across the sky. Only when it's directly overhead do you realize you've never seen a plane quite like this: just like a bird, it arcs its broad wings up and then pushes them down in one continuous, fluid motion. No turbines or propellers, no flaps or rudders interrupt the smooth surface of the plane's flattened body, and it emits barely a whisper as it sweeps past. Even as you struggle to take it all in, the plane furls both wings, plunges forward, and soars out of sight.

"The bird is a machine that operates according to mathematical law."
--Leonardo Da Vinci

This futuristic plane is so far just a concept in the minds of a small research team, of which I am a part. But if we have our way, a flapping-wing plane like this could become a reality within a decade or two. Over the past seven years, our group, scattered in five U.S. locations, has been investigating exactly what it would take to build such an aircraft. With funding from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, in Atlanta, we've completed a feasibility study and worked out an initial design--and even some functional, if crude, proof-of-principle models.

Keep reading...Show less

This article is for IEEE members only. Join IEEE to access our full archive.

Join the world’s largest professional organization devoted to engineering and applied sciences and get access to all of Spectrum’s articles, podcasts, and special reports. Learn more →

If you're already an IEEE member, please sign in to continue reading.

Membership includes:

  • Get unlimited access to IEEE Spectrum content
  • Follow your favorite topics to create a personalized feed of IEEE Spectrum content
  • Save Spectrum articles to read later
  • Network with other technology professionals
  • Establish a professional profile
  • Create a group to share and collaborate on projects
  • Discover IEEE events and activities
  • Join and participate in discussions

This Wearable Neck Patch Can Diagnose Concussions

Self-powered sensors convert neck strain into electrical pulses to detect head trauma in athletes

4 min read
image of back of man's head and shoulders with a patch taped to his lower neck; right image is a time lapse image of a man's head extending far forward and back, simulating a case of whiplash

The prototype patch in this research is shown in (a) on the left; on the right (b) is the kind of head rotation that can yield an electrical response from the patch.

Juan Pastrana

Nelson Sepúlveda was sitting in the stands at Spartan Stadium, watching his hometown Michigan State players bash heads with their cross-state football rivals from the University of Michigan, when he had a scientific epiphany.

Perhaps the nanotechnologies he had been working on for years—paper-thin devices known as ferroelectret nanogenerators that convert mechanical energy into electrical energy—could help save these athletes from the ravages of traumatic brain injury.

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Video Friday: PoKeBo Cubes

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

2 min read
A young girl looks at a cluster of three simple robots facing each other on a table

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

RoboCup 2022: 11 July–17 July 2022, BANGKOK
IEEE CASE 2022: 20 August–24 August 2022, MEXICO CITY
CLAWAR 2022: 12 September–14 September 2022, AZORES, PORTUGAL
ANA Avatar XPRIZE Finals: 4 November–5 November 2022, LOS ANGELES
CoRL 2022: 14 December–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND

Enjoy today’s videos!

Keep Reading ↓Show less

Take the Lead on Satellite Design Using Digital Engineering

Learn how to accelerate your satellite design process and reduce risk and costs with model-based engineering methods

1 min read

Win the race to design and deploy satellite technologies and systems. Learn how new digital engineering techniques can accelerate development and reduce your risk and costs. Download this free whitepaper now!

Our white paper covers:

Keep Reading ↓Show less