Robots that fly are usually small. Aside from that shared feature, they vary widely in design and purpose. Some flap their wings or soar like birds, while others are patterned after land animals. Yet others move in ways that are clearly mechanical, such as quadrotors, also called quadricopters, or ornithopters. Many work in swarms, communicating and cooperating among each other to accomplish different tasks.
Flying robots may assist soldiers in battle as an alternative to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or provide reconnaissance and surveillance for human first responders in post-disaster situations. Others may replace large, imprecise, soil-damaging agricultural equipment for targeted crop dusting, or assemble architectural structures. Many are autonomous, some are remote-controlled, and some can do both: autonomous robots with real-time communication from remote pilots.
Click on the image below to see 11 flying robots in action.
Festo's SmartBird was inspired by a herring gull. It flies, glides, and sails, and can take off, fly, and land autonomously, rising by means of its flapping wings alone. Its articulated torsional drive unit, combined with a complex flight control system in its torso and tail section, lets SmartBird's wings twist at specific angles, as well as beat up and down to optimize airflow use without the use of additional lift devices. Wing position and torsion are monitored by ZigBee-based two-way radio communication, conveying operating data such as battery charge and power consumption, as well as pilot input. Pilots can also adjust torsion control parameters in real time during flight. Festo expects to transfer ideas and insights gained from the functional integration of coupled drive units to the development and optimization of hybrid drive technology. (Source: Festo)
I recently spent 20 minutes watching a herring gull practising slope-soaring and precision flying, wing-tip feathers used for slow-flight control, wing flutter while hovering in an updraft, twisting tail for directional control, swooping and turning ... all without a single wingflap !
The off-the-shelf toys are lots of fun and definitely lead to breakthroughs for these more "serious" applications. Last year, I saw one flying in the local Brookstone store. It was a quad-rotor styrofoam device, with front mounted camera that sent the images to an I-phone.
We flew it out of the store, into the mall hallway, using only the image on the I-phone to guide the device. Here's a link to its webpage - watch the video - lots of fun to be had.
And the interest is not just the technology, but also the ways people use it. How cool would it be to be able to fly your camera in for a closer look at a crowded tourist location or outdoor performance?
I would like to see more "hybrid" flyers. Propellers are very fast and maneuverable, but they take a terrible amount of energy just to stay in the air. Balloons stay in the air without consuming energy, but they are very slow. It seems to me that a neutral density robot that used propellers or jets to maneuver would be the best of both worlds in most cases. Think of how much battery life a few ounces of helium could buy.
Rob, I know what you mean: its flight looks improbable, although beautiful. But actually, it's not just the light weight--it's the amazing mechanical design and how it makes physics work for it. You can learn more about that here
Clinton, excellent question. First, I doubt if a hawk would attack either of these, since they don't look or smell like food. But they might look like competition.Smaller birds do attack known predators, but these artificial critters would probably scare most birds. For one thing, the AirJelly is huge. Here's a video showing it next to a person--and also showing its amazing movement: http://www.festo.com/cms/en_corp/9771_10377.htm#id_10377 I'd like to see the stats on UAVs and how birds treat those. Anyone know?
Thanks, gsmith, I enjoy finding and writing about the amazing variety of robots. I agree, the AirBurr is very weird looking. I'm pretty sure gyros help it to right itself--that's the usual mechanism, and one used also in the Japanese flying sphere on Slide 9. The sphere costs 200x-plus Tim's Airhog price, but it's made entirely of COTS components. My guess is that one major reason for the variety of robots we're seeing recently is the broad availability of these powerful, cheap components.
What a great collection of flying devices. But a stray thought came to mind - how well will an airborne jellyfish or penguin do against a hawk? Nature has influenced some of the designs, but it may also challenge them once they are in the sky. After watching the smallest of sparrows chase cats away by dive bombing and pecking them, one can easily imagine the "dogfights" between these robots and birds.
The designers may have to take some cue from "Battlebots" for their final versions.