They are beautiful subjects of a photo or video shoot, with their graceful long necks kept completely still as they are taken into the air by their powerful wings. Amazingly, it's their still-in-flight but also flexible necks that have inspired engineers to design a new drone camera made to capture better, less jittery videos.

The whooper swan is the Eurasian counterpart of the North American trumpeter swan. Similar in appearance to the Bewick's swan, it has a wingspan of 81 to 108 inches, and has a length of 55 to 65 inches. In a recent study, scientists found that the whooper swan's neck vertebrae and muscles move with just the right mix of flexibility and stiffness, to keep them steady during flight.

In a paper published in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, findings have influenced engineers from Stanford University to design a camera suspension system for drones that would record less shaky vieo.

To further analyze what makes the whooper swan's neck flexible but still during flight, the researchers used computer models and high-speed video footage which captured how the graceful swan stabilizes its head. They found that the whooper swan's neck is actually structured like a car suspension that allows a smooth ride even along bumpy roads.

"This simple mechanism is a remarkable finding considering the daunting complexity of avian neck morphology with about 20 vertebrae and more than 200 muscles on each side," said assistant professor of mechanical engineering David Lentink, who is also the senior author of the study.

By looking at and adopting characteristics of flying birds and incorporating biology with engineering, Lentink's team aims to improve the design and performance of drones. New guidelines have actually been created for a "prototype swan-inspired passive camera suspension system" which was developed by undergraduate Marina Dimitrov, and that could enable drones with flapping wings to capture better video.

The mechanical engineering assistant professor credited a huge amount of the work to the study's first author Ashley Pete, a former master's student who graduated just last spring. The idea and methodology were developed by Pete in one of her classes under Lentink, Biomechanics of Flight.

Photo: Stefan Berndtsson | Flickr

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