Biomimetic robots are certainly the flavor of the month this decade—with very, very good reason. The last tattered remnants of the US R&D budget is the Pentagon, and they are really interested in autonomous robots of many types (and in training roboticists).
Anyway, the cool robot of the week is Robo Raven from University of Maryland. Yet another drone aircraft, but this one gets kudos for biomimetic flight (which ain’t trivial) and solar power (which is still awfully heavy for small aircraft).
The mechanism is modeled after ravens’ flight (hence the name), and has three independent actuators (left and right wing, tail). Achieving flight and maneuvering requires coordinating the motions of the wings and tail. [Tech Report] As the video shows, it’s impressively birdlike. In fact, an earlier version was attacked by a hawk, which mistook it for real prey.
With the solar panels, the RR doesn’t need batteries to operate on a sunny day. As the PV cells and batteries continue to improve, this kind of UAV will be have considerable cruising periods.
The interest of the military is easy to understand. If there was any doubt, the “loitering” demonstration makes clear one of the main uses.
The video is a little creepy—I would freak out is something like that circled around me. But you get the idea.
- Gerdes, John, Alex Holness, Ariel Perez-Rosado, Luke Roberts, Eli Barnett, Adrian Greisinger, Johannes Kempny, Deepak Lingam, Chen-Haur Yeh, Hugh A. Bruck, and Satyandra K. Gupta, Design, Manufacturing, and Testing of Robo Raven. Advanced Manufacturing Lab, University of Maryland, College Park Technical Report, College Park, MD, 2014. http://drum.lib.umd.edu/bitstream/1903/15080/1/Robo Raven Technical Report.pdf