It was the day of the big flight test, and Obi the Pacific Parrotlet was ready. The small blue-green bird with an eight-inch wingspan had practiced its route—a short trip between two perches, three feet apart—for months. With help from assistants (with thumbs), Obi strapped on a pair of red safety goggles, which held tiny lenses cut from human-sized glasses to fit parrotlet-sized eyes. Once geared up, the captive-bred bird waited for its cue, and then took off through a fine mist of aerosol droplets, illuminated by lasers, to receive its reward of millet seeds on the other side.Obi participated in three test flights led by robot-building engineers at Stanford University to better understand how birds fly. So far, the general theories behind avian flight hold that a wing’s curved shape generates lift to keep birds elevated; flapping generates thrust to propel them forward; and soaring allows birds to ride currents to save energy even while airborne.
A Tiny Parrot Wearing Goggles Is Teaching Scientists How Birds Fly