Consumers dream of the convenience of drones delivering products, be it a new phone or a hot pizza. While that dream is still a ways off due to various regulations, there's another limitation keeping it from becoming a reality: wind. Wind can be unpredictable, and unpredictability is a nuisance for drones when it comes to navigating the sky and carrying objects.

Researchers at Stanford have logically turned to birds, animals that know more than a little bit about dealing with wind while flying.

"You look up, and you'll see a pigeon swoop by casually. It has no problem stabilizing itself, flying around corners, dodging cables and landing on a perch," David Lentink, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering said in an interview with Stanford News. "It's just something we haven't accomplished in robotics yet. We need to study birds up close so we can figure out what their secret is to flying so stably under such difficult conditions, and apply that to aerial robotic design."

To get that close to birds required a special kind of wind of tunnel that Lentink and other researchers constructed. With an adjustable fan the size of Volkswagen Beetle and a turbulence-generating system, Lentink and his team study as birds fly against the currents of air, taking pictures with high-speed cameras and motion-tracking devices to study how the birds' wings move. If the researchers gain a new insights into flight, that drone-delivered pizza could be at your door sooner than you think.

Birds are teaching robots how to fly better
Researchers at Stanford are using a wind tunnel to get up close and personal to study the mechanics of bird flight.