SOCORRO, N.M. (KRQE) – Decades ago, there were stories about the CIA strapping cameras to birds to collect intelligence. Today, new “bird tech” stories are emerging from southern New Mexico, this time aimed at making better drones by mimicking nature.

An associate professor of mechanical engineering at New Mexico Tech, Dr. Mostafa Hassanalian is leading efforts at the school to develop optimized robotic systems. Part of that research recently lead Hassanalian to create flapping-wing drones out of preserved bird carcasses, or taxidermized birds.

Drones have hundreds of potential applications in daily life, Hassanalian says, including everything from personal delivery, to inspections, to emergency response and more. In the case of taxidermized birds, Hassanalian says New Mexico Tech is seeking better ways to monitor wildlife.

“Currently quadcopters or helicopters are huge drones that have a potential hazard to wildlife,” Hassanlian said, adding that current technology makes a lot of noise. “Its probably not a good idea those type of drones, they have propellers and they create a hazard.”

Video shows some of the bio-drones Hassanalian has experimented with at New Mexico Tech. Part of the reason they’ve experimented with taxidermized birds is because of the animal’s structure, which Hassanalian says is more efficient than other flapping wing drones.

“If we use artificial material, we cannot get the perfect flapping motion,” Hassanalian said. “The wings on the birds are response for generating lift and thrust (allowing them to move forward) at the same time.”

Story continues below:

Extended Interview: Dr. Mostafa Hassanalian discusses taxidermy bird drones & other robotic research

Wildlife monitoring is one idea for taxidermy bird drones. Hassanalian says scientists would also like to study the V-formation and coloration of birds wings to try to apply better engineering for the aviation industry.

Hassanalian says he’s aware that some people may look at this technology for military or surveillance applications. He says that has not been a focus on New Mexico Tech’s research.

“Our main area of application for this is civil application,” Hassanalian said. “I cannot deny none of those [defense] applications but we have been, as I said, more civil side of these drones,” mentioning inspection and monitoring applications.

Up next, Hassanlian says he’s continuing to focus on building drones that mimic other biological designs from nature, including pill bugs and dandelion seeds. For more on his research, watch the extend interview with Hassanlian above.