04 August 2011

A robot that flies like a bird, literally

Plenty of robots can fly -- but none can fly like a real bird. That is, until Markus Fischer and his team at Festo built SmartBird, a large, lightweight robot, modeled on a seagull, that flies by flapping its wings. A soaring demo fresh from TEDGlobal 2011.

One could wonder if this thing had any usefulness, apart from the fact that it brings a smile to your face everytime you see that thing flapping its wings. Or we can think what this Smart bird can evolve to in the future.

Unfortunately, the first thing that comes to mind is spy birds, surveillance and military. Moving beyond that, this refreshes the debate about how we design our own airplanes with massive propellers, which is not quite the way nature does it. Can a passenger airplane be designed on principles of nature? A bird was designed to fly alone while a modern plane carries passengers, flies at incredible speeds and faces extreme wind and weather conditions, something that this design has not been perfected for. A personal flying car perhaps then, that could work, right? Go imagine yourself flapping away to office among the pigeons and the sea gulls.

Whats interesting is how the real seagulls reacted when this guy took to the open skies later on during the TED conference. According to a by-watcher, "At first he flew alone in the sky but not after too long hundreds of seagulls flew in from around the city and greeted this oversized foreigner with vocal bewilderment. As they circled curiously, many of them swooped in with intensity to get a closer look as the mechanical seagull flew gracefully through the sky. It was an awe-inspiring experience and very surreal to see nature interacting with science."