Ornithopers have been around for many years and robots based on the concept are not new. But, according to a UMD news release, researchers there have made some new breakthroughs on this old idea by finally designing a robot bird that independently controls the flapping of each wing. This means the robot can fly much like a real bird, adapting to wind speed changes and performing aerobatic maneuvers. From Professors S. K. Gupta's blog post about the project:
Real birds are able to precisely control each wing during flight which enables them to do all sorts of aerobatic maneuvers. This has been a very difficult feat to achieve in bird-inspired robots. In fact, prior efforts (including our own) utilized only simple wing motions where both wings are driven by a single motor. So motions of two wings are coupled. Minor adjustments can be made in wing motions by using small secondary actuators. But two wings cannot move completely independently. In the past, any major change in the wing motion had to be accomplished by doing a hardware change on the ground. Clearly this limited how close a robotic bird came to the real bird in terms of the flight characteristics.
So far, the Robo Raven has flown in 10 MPH winds, and performed realistically enough to provoke a local hawk into attacking it. The robot is capable of carry a small payload and flown with a video camera attached. The robot can also be launched from a ground vehicle or ground robot. For more see the Maryland Robotics Center article Flapping Wing Miniature Air Vehicles. For the history and specifications of this and other bird-inspired robots built at UMD, see the article Flapping Wing Micro Air Vehicle Designs by SK Gupta's Group. Gupta has also written an interesting survey of similar robots titled, "A review of bird-inspired flapping wing miniature air vehicle designs" (PDF format). And you knew we had to have video of this bot in action, right? Read on to watch it fly!