Festo has a fairly fascinating, frankly fantastical, and frequently full-on fabulous history with the robotic systems that they develop in partnership with universities and research groups as part of their Bionic Learning Network. In the past, we've seen flying penguins and jellyfish, as well as bio-inspired manipulators like this one.
Today, Festo has unveiled their 2011 Bionic Learning Network projects, the most awesome of which is definitely SmartBird. Watch it fly:
And here's what going on inside:
Unlike many of Festo's flying robots, SmartBird doesn't appear to rely on lifting gas at all. It weighs less than half a kilo, and is capable of autonomous take-off, flight, and landing using just its two meter-long wings. SmartBird is modeled very closely on the herring gull, and controls itself the same way birds do, by twisting its body, wings, and tail. For example, if you look closely in the video, you can see SmartBird turning its head to steer.
I love how Festo isn't just inspired by biological systems, but actually strives to exactly duplicate their functionality, often with remarkable results. We saw this philosophy in action last year, too, with their elephant trunk gripper, that now has a new home on a mobile robotic base:
This system is called Robotino XT, and it's easy to use, fast, precise, and most importantly human-safe thanks to the pliable nature of its arm and gripper, which is actually printed using a 3D printer.
Hit up the links below for lots more information; Festo's website have links to PDF brochures with just about all the detail you could possibly want.
Evan Ackerman is the senior writer for IEEE Spectrum's award-winning robotics blog, Automaton. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and emerging technology, covering conferences and events on every single continent except Antarctica (although he remains optimistic). In addition to Spectrum, Evan's work has appeared in a variety of other online publications including Gizmodo and Slate, and you may have heard him on NPR's Science Friday or the BBC World Service if you were listening at just the right time. Evan has an undergraduate degree in Martian geology, which he almost never gets to use, and still wants to be an astronaut when he grows up. In his spare time, he enjoys scuba diving, rehabilitating injured raptors, and playing bagpipes excellently.