Robotic birds are notoriously difficult to make, because the complex motion required brings mechanical weight penalties that are difficult to balance with the modest thrust of the flapping wings. But this new avian bot uses lightweight 3D-printed parts to reduce weight and turn it into an acrobat.
Usually, robotic birds have wings that flap in sync because that massively simplifies the mechanics, reducing weight and making flight possible. But it also makes their movement pretty boring. This one, however, made by engineers at the University of Maryland, has actuators in each wing. That means the wings flap independently, allowing for complex flight patterns. It was made possible by using 3D printing and laser etching to create mechanisms from less material than usual.
In one test flight, the robotic bird was mistaken for the real thing – at least momentarily – by a hawk, which joined it in flight. But in reality, even separating control of each wing can't provide the finer details of realistic bird flight. Still, it's an impressive piece of technology, and it's particularly fun to watch the bird right itself at it spirals, seemingly out of control, toward the ground. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers reckon the mechanisms could be used in UAVs; we'll have to wait and see if that claim flies. [Soft Robotics via New Scientist]