Forget drones, robot birds come home to roost

The search for robots that can jump, run and fly has become an obsession for the U.S. military, research scientists and a large population of the web, so this blog post from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign caught my eye. Researchers there have created a robotic bird with articulated wings that is able to successfully perch on an object.

This is cool because it’s supposedly the first bird robot with this type of wing structure, and as such, is more agile than earlier aerial robots. Perhaps our future drones will look like birds of prey and can fly in for landings without the aid of a cleared area or runway. They also will look less like drones and more like natural objects, which is a win for spycraft. Here’s what researcher Soon-Jo Chung said about his efforts:

“There’s a lot to learn from bio systems,” Chung said. “Bats can fly with damaged wings. They are so agile and highly maneuverable; they can make rapid 180-degree turns autonomously and they can fly indoors without colliding with obstacles. These qualities are desirable for small aircraft that could be used in surveillance, particularly in urban settings where obstacles hamper movement and satellite control is blocked.”

It’s also a breakthrough in our understanding of the mechanics of living creatures. The science of robotics is fascinating for many because it’s a human effort to recreate our natural world, and to learn more in that recreation, about natural systems that took millennia to evolve. So this is like building a LEGO kit without the instruction manual, and who hasn’t had fun doing that?

Here’s the video of the researchers explaining their find. The robot perches at 1:20 and brings back my tween dreams of becoming a falconer (I read a lot of fantasy). Although I suppose in a dystopian future it might instead lead people to think about Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.