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"Parroted" -- The Discovery Files

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Birds can perch on a wide variety of surfaces, thick or thin, rough or slick. But can they find stable footing on a branch covered in Teflon? In the interest of making better robots, Stanford researchers found out.

Credit: NSF/Karson Productions

Audio Transcript:

Smooth landing.

I'm Bob Karson with the Discovery Files, from the National Science Foundation.

Researchers at Stanford are studying the Parrot -- one of nature's best mimickers to try to mimic it: Here, an adorable little blue parrotlet named "Gary." (Sound effect: parrotlet: chirp) Not to talk like him. (Sound effect: parrotlet: "pretty bird") The team wants to learn to land like him.

You know how birds always seem to stick their landings? The researchers are studying the physics behind that. The complex set of variables, that could be adapted to flying robots.

Five high-speed cameras around a perch caught different angles to watch in super slo-mo. Sensors on the perch recorded forces in many directions, including how hard the bird was squeezing. In different tests the perch surface was sandpaper, foam, wood and this one: (Sound effect: chariots of fire-style music) (Sound effect: dramatic) A seemingly impossible Teflon perch. Gary gets the "go" signal from the trainer to land on the perilous perch. (Sound effect: random parrotlet sounds) The plucky parrotlet takes flight -- final approach and he effortlessly sticks the landing, on a non-stick perch!! (Sound effect: wild cheers)

(Sound effect: slow-motion parrotlet chirps) The team found upon touchdown, Gary could do some ultra-fast repositioning from one graspable bump to another in a mere 1 to 2 milliseconds. A human blink is like 400 milliseconds. (Sound effect: cartoon blink)

Happy landings for flying robots may get a boost from some "parroted" ideas. (Sound effect: quick chirp)

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