UMD Robotics

The University of Maryland just made a flying, flapping robot bird (of prey)

Long before the Wright Brothers took their first flight, people have tried to take to the skies with all sorts of wacky contraptions—from Leonardo Da Vinci’s helicopters to people who haphazardly strapped wings to their arms.

Now, thanks to a team of researchers at the University of Maryland, we have Robo Raven, a robot that flaps around like a real bird. It’s even agile enough that it can swoop and dive like a real bird of prey!

Wait—that’s not good, is it?

Developed by University of Maryland Professors S. K. Gupta and Hugh Bruck and their students, Robo Raven is quite unlike any previous robot bird attempted before. It comes equipped with two wings that flap completely independently of each other, and can be programmed to perform any desired motion. This sort of control allows the bird bot to perform aerobatic maneuvers including the flips that quadrocopters seem to do effortlessly.

Professors Gupta and Bruck have been working on flapping-wing robotic birds for the better part of a decade. Their latest creation uses two programmable motors along with a larger battery and a dedicated microcontroller to coordinate the motion between the two wings.

"We can now program any desired motion patterns for the wings," Gupta said in a release. "This allows us to try new in-flight aerobatics—like diving and rolling—that would have not been possible before, and brings us a big step closer to faithfully reproducing the way real birds fly."

Of course, all this additional weight also means the Robo Raven had to cut some fat elsewhere. This is where 3D printing and laser cutting came into play to create lightweight polymer parts.

It’ll probably be years before humans take flight with actual wings, but getting flapping robot birds in the air means we’re at least taking the first step toward making it happen.

[University of Maryland Robotics Center via Gizmodo]

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