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Robotic bird takes wing

Professors and students at the University of Maryland have designed a robotic bird that can not only fly, but also perform manoeuvres in the air.

(Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET Australia)

Professors and students at the University of Maryland have designed a robotic bird that can not only fly, but also perform manoeuvres in the air.

Festo's robotic dragonfly was able to make incredible manoeuvres in the air, thanks to four independently moving wings. Scaling that down to just two wings is no less impressive.

The Robo Raven is the work of a team of professors and students at the University of Maryland in the US, and it has one-upped Festo's seagull model. The bird's wings can flap independently of one another, meaning it can make complex aerobatic movements.

Professor SK Gupta has been working on building a robotic bird for most of a decade, demonstrating a working robot in 2007 with his graduate students and professor Hugh Bruck. But simultaneously flapping wings meant the robot had some pretty strong limitations, unable to correct for air current variation or fly in winds stronger than 16 kilometres per hour.

Independently flapping wings seemed to be the way to go — but adding a second actuator made the bird too heavy to fly. This was solved with the widespread advent of 3D printing, which, together with laser cutting, allowed the team to create lightweight polymer parts.

Then they had to make sure the bird was effective at flying. This involved programming motion profiles that made sure the wings maintained optimal velocity for both lift and thrust; measuring the aerodynamic forces at play during flapping to work out the best wing design; and testing and optimising the bird so that it worked properly.

The Robo Raven was so successful that it even fooled real birds — some of which followed it around the air, with a hawk even having a go at it.

"We can now program any desired motion patterns for the wings," professor Gupta said. "This allows us to try new in-flight aerobatics like diving and rolling that would have not been possible before, and brings us a big step closer to faithfully reproducing the way real birds fly."

Via www.robotics.umd.edu