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Robotics Science

Winged Robots Hint At the Origins of Flight 59

Posted by Soulskill
from the not-to-mention-the-origins-of-skynet dept.
sciencehabit writes "Here's what we know about the evolution of flight: By about 150 million years ago, the forests were filled with flying — or perhaps just gliding — dinosaurs like Archaeopteryx, possibly similar to the ancestor of modern birds. What we don't know is what primitive wings were used for before bird ancestors could fly. A new study (abstract) provides some fresh data for this debate, not from fossils but from a winged robot (video included)."
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Winged Robots Hint At the Origins of Flight

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  • by Stirling Newberry (848268) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @08:13PM (#37756882) Homepage Journal
    Because it hints at being able to model biological systems with robots, and make comparative analysis of the different advantages that might be gained. Since many features evolve in parallel, it can also be used to judge the relative chance of rapid versus gradual evolution. Good catch sciencehabit.
    • by stms (1132653)

      It also has the side benefit that it can potentially help us make better robots.

      • by blair1q (305137)

        it can potentially help us evolve better robots.

        FTFY

        • by Empiric (675968)
          No better way to eliminate the plausibility of design than by designing it.
          • by Nivag064 (904744)

            No better way to eliminate the plausibility of design than by designing it.

            The main problem behind the idea of 'Intelligent Design' to justify the existence of a god as the ultimate designer: is that in doing so, you need another designer to design your god, and another one to design that...

            So, in practice, the 'design' of living organisms is driven what improves the survivability of a species in its habitat.

            • by Empiric (675968)

              No, not in the least. That ID says all complex structures -must- be designed is just something its opponents make up that ID says. As usual for such claims, nobody actually advocating ID actually says this. "Plausibly indicates design", yes. "Must be designed", no.

              It's just a Straw Man to fit a particular preconceived argument, and if the facts don't justify the claim as to an opponent's position, well then, it seems, the answer is to just make up the facts and go ahead and insist what their stance is f

              • by Nivag064 (904744)
                'Intelligent Design' is just one of many attempts to justify the existence of a god.

                Every attempt to prove the existence of a god is fallacious, at least amongst the attempts I have seen
                • by Empiric (675968)

                  Usually, it works better to demonstrate an actual fallacy in the argument at hand than just assert all viewpoints other than yours are "fallacious" with no evidence of this provided.

                  But, to start, it is indeed fallacious for you to suggest that "justify" is the same as "prove", as most domains of human knowledge have as their best-case epistemological status the former and not the latter, including the hard sciences.

                  • by Nivag064 (904744)
                    Please supply a valid argument to prove one or more gods exist.
                    • by Empiric (675968)

                      Please supply a valid argument to prove any principle of any of the sciences.

                      I made it easy on you, and didn't even ask for proof of the views of the political party you ascribe to, or the principle of economics you agree with. And yes, you unquestionably agree with -one of the alternatives-. Don't be a hypocrite now--prove it.

                      Switching instead to the intellectually-honest form of the request you could have made, rather than suggest you want to make your decision based on a degree of "proof" that would -f

                    • by Nivag064 (904744)
                      > Please supply a valid argument to prove any principle of
                      > any of the sciences.

                      This is not relevant to this discussion, this is a distraction.
                      Although this is a very interesting area of philosophy, and
                      one of my interests. Possibly some other time we can discuss
                      this.

                      > I made it easy on you, and didn't even ask for proof of the
                      > views of the political party you ascribe to, or the principle
                      > of economics you agree with. And yes, you unquestionably
                      > agree with -one of the al
                    • by Empiric (675968)
                      As far as I can tell, there are no valid arguments to support the notion of one or more gods.

                      Well, since I have basis to think it's necessary here, what do you consider "valid" and "supporting"?

                      Peer-reviewed medical studies? [altervista.org]

                      Prophecy fulfillment? (Yes, I know the standard objections. Drop all the ones remotely possibly "self-fulfilling", reduce the improbability a million-fold after that, it's still extremely improbable.) [reasons.org]

                      Willing martyrdom of contemporaries, that is, those in a position to -know- [wikipedia.org]
                    • by Nivag064 (904744)

                      > > As far as I can tell, there are no valid arguments to
                      > > support the notion of one or more gods.
                      >
                      > Well, since I have basis to think it's necessary here, what do
                      > you consider "valid" and "supporting"?

                      It very much depends on the nature of the argument you present. There is no point in me preparing to shoot something with the equivalent of 150mm shell when a 30mm cannon is sufficient.

                      [...]

                      > My guess, based on previous experience, is you mean by
                      > "valid", "whatever I ne

                    • by Empiric (675968)

                      Since you replied to few points of mine (those you apparently thought germane to your objectives), I'll do the same with respect to your rather-long post. Though, no, I won't be agreeing to any rules of debate other than logic whatsoever here, as I'd probably find that annoyingly restrictive, generally am civil anyway, and such things as you perhaps feeling "threatened" by the fact that your position inevitably loses as a simple matter of entropy isn't really my problem.

                      Firstly, I'd like to propose a paral

    • by gnalle (125916) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @04:47AM (#37759514)

      The wings only help because the robot was designed poorly. When the robot moves without wings the body of the robot jumps up and down and it rotates along a vertical axis, and that makes it hard for the robot to move. The wings stabilize the motion of the body and presses it towards the ground, and that allows the robot to move faster.

      Real beetles don't have this problem because they move their legs in a more controlled fashion. I am sure that the sameis true for the dinasaurs that turned in to birds. Therefore this experiment does not prove a lot. The team is asking the right question, but they did not come up with a denifite answer.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4V1631-Vcm4 [youtube.com]

  • When you research Metabolic Boost for Zerglings they get wings that improve their running speed by 60%. Any bronze level newbie knows wings improve land speed.
    • by arpad1 (458649)

      I don't know about Zerglings but it's always struck me that the use of wings to improve land speed would be a good evolutionary intermediate step to flapping-winged flight.

      The bone and muscle structure and all the supporting bodily systems wouldn't be much different between a bird that's improved its running speed by wing-flapping and a bird that can take flight for short but worthwhile distances.

      • by Baloroth (2370816)
        Penguins might take issue with that assessment :)
        • by arpad1 (458649) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @10:22PM (#37757822)

          With all due respect to your smart-aleckiness, I don't think so.

          At the very least the density of water, while resulting in a superficially similar motion to wing-flapping in air, is just such so much more dense a medium I'd guess the adaptations necessary for the penguin wouldn't easily translate to the adaptations necessary for flight. Then there's the problem of intermediate forms. What are the intermediate steps between a penguin adapted to "flying" in water and a penguin-descendent adapted to flying in air?

          The "intermediate steps" problem is why I have doubts about birds evolving from purely gliding to powered flight.

          Wings adapted to the production of thrust, to improve running performance, will also generate lift when held still in an air stream. The skeletal, musculature and nervous system adaptations can occur incrementally because incremental improvements result in incremental benefits. For a bird adapted to gliding the incremental benefit that accrues incremental, but immediate, benefits is a further perfection of gliding adaptations.

          • There are two kinds of incremental change - small changes in gene expression/abundance/variation that give small outward changes, and small mutations that have big outward effects, e.g. six fingers on one hand, downs syndrome, sickle cell anemia. All those originally came from a single genetic misfire during replication. Who's to say wings didn't start from a physical step change that was a single base pair?

            • If the single base pair change is what happened, all it would take to prove this is more study of the genetics of birds and their ancestors. Surely we know what genes affect wing formation in birds.
          • by Chris Burke (6130)

            What are the intermediate steps between a penguin adapted to "flying" in water and a penguin-descendent adapted to flying in air?

            More to the point: Penguins descended from flighted birds, and adapted to improve swimming. It seems very unlikely based on what we know of bird ancestors that they followed the reverse path, going from the water to the air.

            For a bird adapted to gliding the incremental benefit that accrues incremental, but immediate, benefits is a further perfection of gliding adaptations.

            You don't think incremental improvements for producing thrust or allowing control would provide incremental benefits for a gliding animal? A little more distance or a little more precision or a little more turning ability to avoid pursuing predators (or capture prey) all sound like i

    • by ArcherB (796902)

      When you research Metabolic Boost for Zerglings they get wings that improve their running speed by 60%.

      Any bronze level newbie knows wings improve land speed.

      Which soon evolve to Muta's that enter from the back of the base and kill ur d00dz!

    • by am 2k (217885)

      I always hoped that one day they would be able to jump up/down cliffs with them :)

  • I hate stating something like this without any citation, but when I was reading some textbook for a class my girlfriend was taking back in college I was surprised that flight evolved separately multiple times according to the fossil record. Intermediate wings must provide a pretty statistically significant benefit.

    • by BluBrick (1924) <blubrick AT gmail DOT com> on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:00PM (#37757238) Homepage

      I hate stating something like this without any citation, but when I was reading some textbook for a class my girlfriend was taking back in college I was surprised that flight evolved separately multiple times according to the fossil record. Intermediate wings must provide a pretty statistically significant benefit.

      This [xkcd.com] is why flight evolved independently multiple times.




      Oh, come on! You just knew someone was going to do it.

    • That it happened several times is pretty obvious, given that many arthropods (such as insects) can fly, and neither birds nor mammals evolved from them.

      Thing is, almost all traits commonly exhibited by living beings today have evolved more than once in history; in many cases, even numerous times. On one hand, it indicates that evolutionary cycles are much shorter than previously expected from the traditional model of random mutations reappearing every now and then until they stick by pure chance. So far as

  • What we don't know is what primitive wings were used for before bird ancestors could fly.

    Jump farther [wikipedia.org]?

  • by JumperCable (673155) on Tuesday October 18, 2011 @09:21PM (#37757368)

    Name one non-raptor based animal that uses flapping or wing like features to increase running or walking speed.

    We have all sorts of mammals and snakes that use skin flaps for gliding. Unless we have examples of non-rapture creatures that use skin flaps of some sort to do increase walking/running speed, I would think the answer is obvious.

    • by Triklyn (2455072)

      I think naming such a species could be precluded by the observation that it appears that it would only work in bipeds, or at least in animals that have an extra set of limbs that aren't being used for locomotion or something equally important. there really aren't that many redundant limbs to work with.

      We might have had some, except for the whole tool making thing; bats are tree dwelling rats, as long as they could still climb a bit, insects, it's damn easy to pop out extra arms on those buggers, and T-rex

      • I think naming such a species could be precluded by the observation that it appears that it would only work in bipeds, or at least in animals that have an extra set of limbs that aren't being used for locomotion or something equally important. there really aren't that many redundant limbs to work with.

        Birds don't have a redundant set of limbs, what were their arms have been switched to just be wings. They are now mostly avian bipeds, except for those who have lost the ability to fly such as penguins and ostriches.

        We might have had some, except for the whole tool making thing; bats are tree dwelling rats, as long as they could still climb a bit,

        That is my point. All we have are examples of animals that are either gliders or have evolved from gliders. Bats didn't evolve their wings for running. Then we have flying squirrels, sugar gliders & "flying" snakes that have all evolved extended skin flaps for extending their gliding distance between trees.

    • How fast can YOU run with your arms held by your side? There's huge benefit in swinging your arms while running, and I'm sure I'd start flapping too if chased by something bigger than me with teeth. There's also huge benefits in terms of balance if rapidly changing direction while running, or navigating tricky terrains slowly. Flying could then be the added advantage of not dying when you fall.
      • by Chris Burke (6130)

        How fast can YOU run with your arms held by your side? There's huge benefit in swinging your arms while running, and I'm sure I'd start flapping too if chased by something bigger than me with teeth.

        I'm not sure, but I think I could run faster with my arms by my side rather than flapping them out at my sides. I'd hope for your sake that you'd pump your arms, rather than flap them, if pursued by a predator.

        But in any case that's us humans.

        Birds, on the other hand, can run quite rapidly with their wings at their sides. Not just flightless birds, but birds that can fly but often choose to run -- e.g. roadrunners -- do so with their wings folded. Why would a bird with fully developed wings not use them

    • Can't think of a running example but what about an animal that has evolved to be flat as possible for camouflage reasons? The Horned Lizard comes to mind. That thing just looks like it could glide if you threw it but it never evolved that shape by gliding.

    • Unless we have examples of non-rapture creatures

      Tim Lehay is in charge of that project.

    • by hellop2 (1271166)
      quail
  • by smellsofbikes (890263) on Wednesday October 19, 2011 @01:46AM (#37758826) Journal

    Small warm-blooded animals have a tough time keeping warm, particularly in rain. Some people who study hibernation have theorized that wings and feathers both came from the need to have something like a rainjacket, that could deflect rain, but could also be opened up to vent excess heat during exercise, based on the huge primary feathers of many waterfowl, that cover their whole backs and sides.

  • The theory that flight evolved with proto birds using flapping wings to climb inclines is based on actual bird behavior. A bird running up an incline WILL use it's wings to help scale the slope. It is possible that flight evolved from both ends of the scale, with proto birds using their wings to help climb trees and then glide to another.

  • This is too obvious and therefore likely wrong. But when an animal jumps from tree to tree (vague thoughts of Monty Python "Swinging from tree to tree") it holds it's arms out. When a runner jumps a long gap, s/he continues to pedal the legs as if there is something to pedal on. The arms being out stretched would, initially, be of little aerodynamic value but, with a little evolution here and there, would soon be of advantage to the animal enabling it to leap further if they had some extra skin attached und

  • Feathers evolved to enhance parachuting, that is, slowing the fall when jumping out of trees. When the smooth scales of lizards began to change, they didn't enhance any survival trait except create greater wind resistance. This slowed the creature down when it had to jump to get away from predators. Even today, small mammals jump from heights and use their fur to slow them down. There is no question, early birds were accustomed to jumping from heights and wings evolved to change the jump to a glide.
  • But maybe just stabilization in water at first (like fishes' fins and penguins), then later stabilization while sliding on muddy or icy land into landing slower from larger heights, gliding into flying.

  • Flight has actually originated in three seperate events. Birds, bats, and insects.

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