German engineering company Festo has developed a series of incredible flying robots that mimic the motions of birds and dragonflies.
The Stuttgart-based company claims that in creating its SmartBird robot it has deciphered the flight of birds, which it says is “one of the oldest dreams of humankind.”
Made of a polyurethane foam and carbon fiber, the SmartBird is a lightweight, aerodynamic robot that is based on the herring gull. It is able to take off and land just by using the power of its wings. The wings beat up and down as normal but also twist at certain angles by using an active articulated torsional drive unit, which is a series of small motors that enable the head, wings and tail to twist a la a bird in the wild.
The idea behind the design is to develop robotics that are energy efficient and fuel efficient, relying on autonomous flight, takeoff and landing rather than from additional motors that use fuel. The SmartBird has a wingspan of 6.5 feet and weighs just 1 pound.
Similarly, the BionicOpter, a large version of a dragonfly, can hover and even fly in any direction, almost identical to the real thing. Incredibly, the robot is able to glide in mid-air without beating its wings at all.
Controlled from a smartphone, the BionicOpter is capable of subtle twists and turns of its four wings by just tilting the smartphone in the required direction.
While not comparable in size to a real dragonfly, the robot version of the insect is able to use sensors, mechanical components and actuators to assist in its flight and can relay live communications at the same time.
Animal-inspired robots are not a new thing. Google Inc. (NASDAQ:GOOG) recently bought Boston Dynamic, which builds robots that that are are based on cheetahs, dogs and wild cats. But the history of ornithopters goes back thousands of years, pre-dating Leonardo Da Vinci, who is often credited with the idea.