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Fly Like A Bird

Flapping wings could revolutionize aircraft design

10 min read
Fly Like A Bird
Illustration: John MacNeill

A silvery airplane appears on the horizon. At first glance, nothing seems out of the ordinary about the small dot moving across the sky. Only when it's directly overhead do you realize you've never seen a plane quite like this: just like a bird, it arcs its broad wings up and then pushes them down in one continuous, fluid motion. No turbines or propellers, no flaps or rudders interrupt the smooth surface of the plane's flattened body, and it emits barely a whisper as it sweeps past. Even as you struggle to take it all in, the plane furls both wings, plunges forward, and soars out of sight.

"The bird is a machine that operates according to mathematical law."
--Leonardo Da Vinci

This futuristic plane is so far just a concept in the minds of a small research team, of which I am a part. But if we have our way, a flapping-wing plane like this could become a reality within a decade or two. Over the past seven years, our group, scattered in five U.S. locations, has been investigating exactly what it would take to build such an aircraft. With funding from the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, in Atlanta, we've completed a feasibility study and worked out an initial design--and even some functional, if crude, proof-of-principle models.

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The EV Transition Explained: Charger Infrastructure

How many, where, and who pays?

7 min read
Illuminated electric vehicle charging stations at night in Monterey Park, California.

Electric vehicle charging stations in Monterey Park, California.


The ability to conveniently charge an EV away from home is a top concern for many EV owners. A 2022 survey of EV owners by Forbes indicates that 62 percent of respondents are so anxious about their EV range that travel plans have been affected. While “range anxiety” may be overblown, the need for an extensive and reliable external charging infrastructure is not.

Infrastructure terminology can itself be confusing. For clarity, bear in mind that a charging station is a specific physical location which has one or more charging posts. A charging post itself may have one or more ports, where each port can charge a single EV. Each post may have multiple types of service connectors to support different EV charging connector standards. And a port may supply varying power levels.

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Video Friday: Humanoid Soccer

Your weekly selection of awesome robot videos

4 min read
Humans and human-size humanoid robots stand together on an indoor soccer field at the beginning of a game

Video Friday is your weekly selection of awesome robotics videos, collected by your friends at IEEE Spectrum robotics. We also post a weekly calendar of upcoming robotics events for the next few months. Please send us your events for inclusion.

CoRL 2022: 14–18 December 2022, AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND
ICRA 2023: 29 May–2 June 2023, LONDON

Enjoy today’s videos!

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FAST Labs’ Cutting-Edge R&D Gets Ideas to the Field Faster

BAE Systems’ FAST Labs engineers turn breakthrough innovations into real-life impact

1 min read

FAST Labs is an R&D organization where research teams can invent and see their work come to life.

BAE Systems

This is a sponsored article brought to you by BAE Systems.

No one sets out to put together half a puzzle. Similarly, researchers and engineers in the defense industry want to see the whole picture – seeing their innovations make it into the hands of warfighters and commercial customers.

That desire is fueling growth at BAE Systems’ FAST Labs research and development (R&D) organization.

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