Scientists at Stanford University made a bitchin’ pair of tiny little goggles for a very brave bird named Obi so that he could safely fly through a laser beam in order to teach mankind the secrets of flight.
The study, which was intended to observe complex air currents produced by a bird’s flapping wings, could have been dangerous. Obi, a trained Pacific parrotlet, needed to fly through a spray of mist that had been illuminated by a laser sheet while cameras recorded everything at 1,000 frames per second. The problem is that flying through lasers can really mess up a bird’s eyes.
Luckily for Obi, study coauthor Eric Gutierrez and his team weren’t about to blind their bird. They 3D-printed a pair of wee safety goggles modeled after their own human-sized goggles and gave them to Obi before teaching him how to fly through the laser.
“We would never walk through a laser sheet without any protection,” said assistant professor David Lentink in a video of the experiment Stanford uploaded to YouTube. “We really had to think about how we can protect our bird.”
Obi, a daredevil bird if there ever was one, donned his little goggles and flew through the laser like a champ. His stunt was worth the risk. Stanford researchers compared the data — the “clearest picture to date of the wake left by a flying animal” — to the three most popular commonly employed models that are typically used to calculate how much lift a bird generates.
“What we found was that all three models we tried out were very inaccurate because they make assumptions that aren’t necessarily true,” said Diana Chin, a graduate student and co-author on the study.
Thanks to Obi’s flight (and his fly goggles) scientists have a new understanding of how flight works, and that knowledge can be applied to man-made creations.
“Many people look at the results in the animal flight literature for understanding how robotic wings could be designed better,” Lentink said. “Now, we’ve shown that the equations that people have used are not as reliable as the community hoped they were. We need new studies, new methods to really inform this design process much more reliably.”
Should any of these future studies require the services of a fearless bird with well-protected eyes, well, you know where to find Obi.