There are some developments that are too beautiful to miss, even if you are not interested in the hardware and so it is with Festo's collection of biologically inspired robots. To a programmer a robot is "just another platform", but to take control of a machine that literally flies like a bird is inspiring.
It makes you think of new things that you could do. First watch the video and just be impressed that at long last we can mimic the flight of birds. Then watch it again more carefully and try to compare it to everyone's favourite flying robot platform - the quadrarotor or the hexarotor. They are noisy and suck power but they can lift loads and they can hover and position.
Now look at the way the robot SmartBird flies. It has a gentle mastery of the air that allows it to semi-hover and to almost stall in mid turn. This is a type of flight that might not be able to lift heavy loads but its silence and maneuverability suggests many other applications. With the right software it could be made to be much more controllable and sophisticated.
Anyone already planning the code that is needed to get it land on a wire and take off again?
The wings just beat up and down but a torsional drive unit can make them twist to provide "vectored" thrust. The flight is controlled from the ground using Zigbee radio links to a computer including the head mounted video camera. It is extremely lightweight at under 500 gms and it has a wing span of about 2 meters. It's powered by 23W of battery and achieves an 80% aerodynamic efficiency (45% overall).
Of course its energy efficient flight might not look quite as convincing in a high wind and this might well limit what it can be used for - until mark II comes along perhaps.
We are still looking forward to the time when robots will take over all the dangerous, unpleasant and boring jobs. But in a time of high unemployment some feel threatened by the prospect. Should we be [ ... ]