Tuesday, April 19, 2011

SmartBird robot flaps and flies like the real bird

"It is amazing to watch and all the more amazing when you realize that it flaps its wings and all of the control is via a torsion drive which twists the wings during each flap.
The whole thing depends on the constant intervention of the software to keep it under control."


This beautiful, swooping bird is actually a robot. It’s called the
SmartBird, and it is made by Festo.

The wonders of this robot bird are manifold, not least the bird’s outward design, which looks like a King of the Rocketmen-era spacecraft.

The bird weighs just 450g, or around one pound, and has an ingenious drive mechanism. Inside, a motor controls the up/down movement of the wings by spinning two wheels inside the torso.
These are connected, like the wheels on a steam-train, by rods that produce the periodic up-down movement.
The complex rod design uses levers to make the wing tips flap faster.

The second part uses “torsional motors” to adjust the angle of the wings.
On the up-stroke, the front edge of the wing points up.
This reverses as the wing pushes down, forcing the bird forward.

Steering is done by moving the tail, and the eery, is-that-thing-alive? effect is achieved by moving the head from side to side, as if it can see you.

The light weight and sophisticated, yet simple design let the bird almost glide, and it can even take off and land unassisted.
You can control it with a Zigbee radio, or you can just let it glide through the skies alone.

But the most striking thing is just how much like a real bird this SmartBird moves.
Until you get a closeup of its cyberman-like exterior, it could easily pass for the real thing.
The military surely has its eye on this, although adding much in the way of a payload may mess up the power-to-weight balance.
But imagine a flock of these all gliding quietly and gracefully towards you, you unsuspecting dolt, and then raining down fire and death from above.

I would be fine.
Ever since a dream I had as a child, I have never, ever trusted evil seagulls.
I actually plan to catch a few of these SmartBirds and make a real-life Angry Birds right up on my roof terrace.

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