OK. So just what is the connection here between seagulls and systems design? The answer: Hannover Fair. To help you make sense of this, let me start with the systems design research and finish with the seagull.
I’ve been coming to Hannover Fair — probably the world’s largest industrial technology trade show of its kind — nearly every year since 2004; and while there is always a bounty of new developments and interesting products on display, most of the time the advances you see are small incremental improvements. Such is often the case with advancing technology.
But all the advice from industry experts as we headed into the most recent recession — that technology companies should use the slowdown in business to invest time and money in research — seems to have been taken to heart by a number of companies. And a good bit of it is now on display at Hannover Fair.
I’ll be conveying news about these advances over the next several days. But today it was about Festo’s seagull research. Here’s the deal: Festo has developed what it calls the SmartBird — an extremely agile robotic bird. The SmartBird can start, fly and land on its own. Furthermore, by copying the flight motion of the herring gull (upon which it was modeled), the wings beat up and down and twist at specific angles in much the same way as bird wings do.
The keys to the realistic wing movement are: 1) a lever mechanism that, as the wings beat up and down, causes a degree of deflection to increase from the SmartBird’s torso to the wing tip; 2) the wing is able twist so that the leading edge is directed upward during the upward stroke, thereby making the torsion created active, rather than passive, thereby lifting the SmartBird into the air. Active torsion is achieved by a servo motor at the end of the outer wing which twists the wing via the outer rib of the wing.
The wing’s position and torsion are monitored by a two-way radio using the ZigBee protocol. Communication to and from the bird includes information on battery charge, power consumption and input from the pilot.
Inside the bird’s torso are the battery, engine and transmission, crank mechanism, and the control and regulation electronics. Three Hall sensors on the motor register the wing’s positions. Two electric motors and cables are used to synchronize movement of the head and torso sections. Because the torso bends aerodynamically, with simultaneous weight displacement, the SmartBird is able to be both agile and maneuverable.
While this is only a broad overview of what goes into the SmartBird technology, one has to wonder: What did Festo get out of this beyond wowing a technology-loving crowd? According to the company, the benefits of what it learned from developing the SmartBird are: transferrable knowledge about hybrid drive technology (pneumatic and electric) and greater efficiencies in resource and energy consumption through the minimal use of materials and lightweight construction. In terms of application, Festo says the use of coupled drives for linear and rotary movement can be used for a number of technologies, including generators that derive energy from water to actuators for process automation.
Click on the video link to below to see the SmartBird in action at Hannover Fair.