Aerobatic Robot Bird Fools Real Birds

Thursday, May 2, 2013

 Flying Robots
University of Maryland Professors S. K. Gupta and Hugh Bruck and their students have developed and demonstrated a new robotic bird, "Robo Raven," whose wings flap completely independently of each other, and also can be programmed to perform any desired motion, enabling the bird to perform aerobatic maneuvers.

University of Maryland's Satyandra Gupta has spent years trying to create a robot bird.

"I wanted to build a bird with completely independent wings that can be programmed with any arbitrary motion profiles," writes Gupta on his blog.

"We did a preliminary experiment five years ago, but unfortunately it was not successful at that time. So we shelved the idea for few years. Hugh Bruck and I revived the idea again about a year ago. I am happy to report that we finally had a breakthrough last week."

The new robot is based on a fundamentally new design concept and is called "Robo Raven."

Robot Raven
Robo Raven and the students that built it.  Image Source: University of Maryland

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It features programmable wings that can be controlled independently. We can now program any desired motion patterns for the wings. This allows us to try new in-flight aerobatics that would have not been possible before. that is said to be good enough to fool the real thing, as you can see for yourself in the video above. This robotic bird is able to dive and roll in such a realistic manner, that other birds have actually thought it was a rival, and attacked it in mid-flight.

Gupta worked on Robo Raven along with students, Eli Barnett, John Gerdes, Johannes Kempny, Ariel Perez-Rosado, and Luke Roberts.

The team used advanced manufacturing processes such as 3D printing and laser cutting to create lightweight polymer parts to reduce the weight. However, this alone was not sufficient. We needed three other tricks to get Robo Raven to fly.

They programmed wing motion profiles that ensured that wings maintain the optimal velocity during the flap cycle to achieve the right balance between the lift and the thrust. The team also developed a method to measure aerodynamic forces generated during the flapping cycle. This allowed them to analyze many different wing designs to select the best one. Finally, they had to perform system level optimization to make sure that all components worked well as an integrated system.

Robotic birds with flapping wings and other micro air vehicles are expected to offer advances in many different applications such as agriculture, surveillance, and environmental monitoring. According to Gupta, Robo Raven is just the beginning.