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Robotics Hardware News

Flying Robot Bird Unveiled 152

Posted by samzenpus
from the getting-the-robot-worm dept.
mikejuk writes "Festo, well known for their biologically inspired robots, have a new creation called SmartBird. It is amazing to watch and all the more amazing when you realize that it flaps its wings and all of the control is via a torsion drive which twists the wings during each flap. The whole thing depends on the constant intervention of the software to keep it under control."

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Flying Robot Bird Unveiled

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  • by JaydenT (2012002) on Monday March 28, 2011 @12:42AM (#35635248)
    ...targeted bird droppings.
  • The whole thing depends on the constant intervention of the software to keep it under control

    That seems to be a fairly well understood problem. Hasn't pretty much every fighter aircraft from the 1970's F16 onward required such software intervention? Inherent flight instability being leveraged for greater performance?

    • by Kilrah_il (1692978) on Monday March 28, 2011 @02:04AM (#35635642)

      And also, real bird also depend on constant intervention of the software, i.e brain. Usually when birds lose their heads, they stop flying. Or so I've heard.

      • This calls for immediate discussion!
      • And also, real bird also depend on constant intervention of the software, i.e brain.

        Birds have not evolved to handle inherently aerodynamically unstable systems. The demands on their brains are probably closer to the human pilot flying older inherently stable designs than more modern designs that can't fly without thousands of corrections per second on multiple control surfaces controlled by computers.

        • I don't think so. Most of the 'stabilization hard- and software' of the birds is probably built-in into the autonomous neurological network, just like a human is able to walk/run/jump upright - which is inherently unstable - without having to consciuously micromanage all muscles that are involved.
          • In fact, our brains do more than that. We can consciously learn to do things, then pass to a stage of being aware of what we are doing, then do something without conscious thought. Sometimes I drive to work with hardly a conscious thought about the process, sometimes in hazardous conditions (ice, school moms) I'm conscious of what I'm doing all the time. Anyone who has watched young birds learning to fly knows that they go through this process. I've watched a young jackdaw practice, over and over, flying fr
            • by tehcyder (746570)

              Sometimes I drive to work with hardly a conscious thought about the process, sometimes in hazardous conditions (ice, school moms) I'm conscious of what I'm doing all the time.

              I think you're mixing up two things. Yes, the physical aspects of driving (changing gear, choosing the right brake pedal, steering) become sub-conscious, but you should always be aware when you are driving of what is going on, whether it's ice, soccer moms, cyclists ahead, pedestrians at the side of the road, a driver about to pull out in front of you, or whatever.

    • in which your body needs constant corrections by your brain so that you dont fall down.

    • by daid303 (843777)

      Yes, but any model plane that size doesn't require intervention from software to keep it under control.

  • Obviously the bird in the video isn't to the point of being to perform in the same way as our Harriers, but we are definitely seeing the future of military aircrafts. Our fighter jets out perform nature in many ways, but one only has to go outside for a few minutes to see bird after bird perform in ways that makes every current aircraft pale in comparison. This is a demonstration that gets the ball rolling.

    F-15 Screamin' Eagle, pahh, meet the F-420 Literally Screamin' Eagle.
    • by wisty (1335733)

      Huh? Birds are a lot smaller, so scaling is on their side. Also, they are built of flight, unlike human pilots. And I wouldn't like to see a bird get *close* to Mach 1.

      UAV will be much more impressive. But the Air Force doesn't like them, as it makes pilots obsolete.

      • by mwvdlee (775178)

        UAV's don't make pilots obsolete, it just makes the job a lot less cool.
        Sitting safely behind a computer on the ground with a joystick in their hand.
        As I understand it, current UAV's still require trained pilots for any practical scenario.

        • Sitting safely behind a computer on the ground with a joystick in their hand.

          I have a lot of experience with this, uh.. flight model. Sign me up!

        • I remember reading about a software pilot using neural networks that could outperform any human fighter pilot in simulations (not least because it could keep working fine at 8Gs or more). The military didn't want to use it because the down side of a neural net is that the programmer doesn't really understand how it works. The advantage of autonomous drones is pretty obvious - an enemy can't disable them with an RF jammer. The down side is that you need to be completely sure that the software is correct,
        • The Global Hawk is generally fully autonomous. The operators just upload a flight plan into it and it goes. As far as I know, Predators still require an operator to control it the entire time it is in flight.
    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      Really?

      I've never seen a bird break the sound barrier.

      Fighters already exceed the capability of the pilot in terms of maneveuring - it doesn't matter if you make the planes even better the pilot will still black out/die anyway.

    • This is not technology that it suited for manned military flight... too slow. Much too slow.

      It's more likely to be used for "security" purposes, in conflict areas and in our own urban environments. Basically, while it is easier to keep an eye on some Taliban guys, it also became easier for the cops to spy on us.

      And that's what I really hate about technology. It is always available for the wrong purposes too. It just keeps getting easier and easier to covertly keep an eye on large groups of people... and it

      • by tehcyder (746570)
        So you think overseas military applications which are designed purely to kill people are cool, but domestic policing ones to protect citizens aren't?
  • I've been disappointed in all the "Dune" movies that they haven't managed to properly portray the Ornithopters (as in the books).

    Of course, I also hate that the MI in "Starship Troopers" didn't get the powered armor!

    To get back on topic, this robo-bird is pretty amazing. There have been a bunch of mini-drones that can be used to spy on an enemy, but they all *look* like drones. These would not raise an eyebrow...

    • this robo-bird is pretty amazing. There have been a bunch of mini-drones that can be used to spy on an enemy, but they all *look* like drones. These would not raise an eyebrow...

      OMG, the RC ornithopter my nephew got last Christmas made me so jealous and inspired. Things I thought were impossible (experts told me they were impractical and too difficult) seem to be happening. We don't have flying cars (that are affordable) but I'll take remote controlled birds and dragonflies as a decent substitute.

    • by gapagos (1264716)

      It all depends on battery life. Predator drones can fly very high and far away from enemy fire for 14 to 24 hours. They can cover very large distances. This is a major advantage in harsh territory such as Afghanistan. This bird might seem innocent, but I really wonder how many minutes (I doubt hours) it can fly considering its size and lightweight requirements which must clearly limiting the battery size (usually the heaviest electronic component). The website doesn't say.
      (See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ [wikipedia.org]

    • What? No Feathers? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by camperdave (969942) on Monday March 28, 2011 @01:37AM (#35635508) Journal
      Why do no ornithopters employ feather analogs? They all have solid wings. Flight feathers form a check valve, letting air through the wing on the upstroke, and capturing it on the downstroke. This arrangement allows the bird to put a lot less energy into the upstroke (and thus not lose as much altitude). With a solid wing, you wind up pushing the craft down on the upstroke almost as much as you lift it on the downstroke.
      • I'm not saying you're wrong,but the point of flapping is thrust not lift.
        • I'm not saying you're wrong,but the point of flapping is thrust not lift.

          It's both, actually. However, a wing is probably not going to generate a lot of lift on the upstroke, so why pour a lot of energy into it? When you look at bird musculature, they have huge muscles for pulling the wing down, but for pulling it up - not so much.

      • I'm not an expert on flapping-wing aircraft, but you can also acheive low drag on upstroke by rotating the wing so it has the lowest angle-of-attack, and then turning it back so it blocks the most wind on the downstroke.

        Birds, having been created by the blind idiot-god evolution, favored (in the appropriate non-intelligent sense) wings that didn't have to do such tricks -- like you say, with feathers, you need a relatively simple flapping motion because they automatically reduce profile on the upstroke and

  • Well beyond humanoids.

    It's so beautiful, interesting, and yet creepy in a way.

    Humanity's advances in certain areas (like robotics) are amazing. The sad part is that we are way ahead in certain areas, but way behind in other three key areas:

    a) Energy:

    We still have to crack the energy issue. We lack both reliable ways to gather energy, and reliable ways to store it.

    b) AI

    We are still in diapers in weak AI, and not even started in strong AI.

    c) Economy

    We are still based on the stupid principle of scarcity. Until we realize that we can produce as much as we need of just about anything, and that we are limiting ourselves by creating artificial scarcity to keep alive a system that's been dead for a long time, we won't make that breakthrough into what we thought the year 2000 was going to be.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      C and A is essentially the same problem, really.

    • While not perfect, the principle of scaricity provides the impitus to prospective entrepreneurial to seek more of it. The idea being there's a much larger profit margin to be taken advantage of. When others jump in on the action, competition and supply increases, and costs come down. Basically, simple laws of supply and demand. The very foundation of a functioning economy. The government also has the power to keep it well maintained, or they themselves become the monkeywrench in the works.

      So what happens wh

    • by roman_mir (125474)

      "stupid principle of scarcity" - and who are you going to enslave to do the work?

      Until everybody gets an army of robots to build shit for them, who would be building shit for you for free and why?

      • by ghostdoc (1235612)

        I'm with Iain M Banks on this one. (to paraphrase:) Robots provide the how, humans provide the why.

        We're not far off having distributed manufacturing able to make shit for us for very low cost (almost free). But there's no way our current economic model can survive that. Given the amount of hassle we're dealing with because we can make copies of songs for free, what are we going to have to cope with when we can make copies of cars for free?

        • by roman_mir (125474)

          Yes, once you get your robot that can build another robot, and then they build armies of robots, and every human has his robot armies, it's all good and stuff, now tell me, what are they going to use for raw materials, space (land) and energy? How are you going to share that among all humans? Time share? Ha ha.

        • by tehcyder (746570)

          I'm with Iain M Banks on this one. (to paraphrase:) Robots provide the how, humans provide the why.

          We're not far off having distributed manufacturing able to make shit for us for very low cost (almost free). But there's no way our current economic model can survive that. Given the amount of hassle we're dealing with because we can make copies of songs for free, what are we going to have to cope with when we can make copies of cars for free?

          You could only make free copies of a car if there were a limitless supply of energy and raw materials. That rather sweeping assumption makes comparison with digital copying irrelevant.

    • by nedlohs (1335013)

      You contradict yourself with A and C. The "energy issue" can't still need "cracking" if we can produce as much as we need of it.

    • by NonSequor (230139)

      Certain things are by their nature difficult and I don't think it's reasonable to expect these things to be solvable.

      a) My expectation is that if there were any really good ways of gathering and storing energy, then lower life-forms would be able to exploit these without having to go through the trouble of evolving into higher lifeforms and then figuring it out. You also have the inherent issue that forms of energy which store well are the most difficult to collect.

      b) Weak AI is hard because maintaining lar

      • My expectation is that if there were any really good ways of gathering and storing energy, then lower life-forms would be able to exploit these without having to go through the trouble of evolving into higher lifeforms and then figuring it out.

        Why do you expect that? We have designed many systems that are in some specific ways better than those systems found in nature. We can go faster, go further, see more, see smaller things, process numbers faster, store more numbers, and do heaps of other things better than natural systems can.

      • regarding (a): fat is a good way of storing energy. I'm not sure if I understood my highschool chemistry teacher right, but he said storing energy in fat is better than current rechargeable battery technology (note that this was around ten years ago, so it may not be true now).

        • The energy density of fat is close to that of Diesel fuel. Tank weight for battery weight, a Diesel car has more than 6 times the range of a battery powered car. (Nissan Leaf 100 miles, equivalent Nissan European Diesel approx. 600 miles.)
      • by Stooshie (993666)
        " ... My expectation is that if there were any really good ways of gathering and storing energy, then lower life-forms would be able to exploit these without having to go through the trouble of evolving into higher lifeforms and then figuring it out ... " The lower life forms are some of the most successful lifeforms on earth. They have little problem with energy.
    • by physicsphairy (720718) on Monday March 28, 2011 @03:25AM (#35636002) Homepage

      Humanity's advances in certain areas (like robotics) are amazing. The sad part is that we are way ahead in certain areas, but way behind in other three key areas:

      This is true, or not--it really is a matter of personal perspective. I myself think we are making fairly equitable process in terms of the limited resources we are splitting between all of our priorities:

      We are still in diapers in weak AI, and not even started in strong AI.

      Might as well be saying this in the year 1850 in respect to clockwork men. The human brain is not software so much as it is hardware, and modern transistor chips do not resemble it very well. I think our present level of AI is fairly suited to the sort of computers we are manufacturing. Get quantum computers (in which we are make quite excellent progress) up to where large chips are viable, and I think the code development of AI will be a few orders of magnitude more viable as well.

      We still have to crack the energy issue. We lack both reliable ways to gather energy, and reliable ways to store it.

      We can generate massive (nuclear) and store massive (dam) amounts of energy. Scaling it down becomes more troublesome. But the real issue is that it's easier to dream up ways to use energy than to produce it, due to troublesome and altogether uncircumventable laws of thermodynamics, which in one sense will always make us seem like we're lagging. Energy "does stuff," and we'll almost always want to "do as much stuff" as we can, which can always be translated into some kind of gain. Getting back to the AI issue: there are fundamental constraints on the the amount of computation that can be done per joule of energy expended. And will we ever be happy with the amount of computing we do? I don't think so. So, in that respect alone, we already have some desire for infinite energy, to say nothing of whatever finite supply we have at a given time.

      We are still based on the stupid principle of scarcity. Until we realize that we can produce as much as we need of just about anything, and that we are limiting ourselves by creating artificial scarcity to keep alive a system that's been dead for a long time, we won't make that breakthrough into what we thought the year 2000 was going to be.

      Humanity always produces as much as it needs. If not, people die and the equilibrium is re-established. It comes to producing as much as we want, and that, as given in one example, is pretty much limitless. Scarcity of resources in that respect is inevitable and the distribution of those resources is fairly well addressed by capitalism. I doubt there will be a better way to distribute them until our super-AI comes online to figure it all out for us. Until then, humans are provably terrible at guessing where resources should go by any means other than rational self-interest.

      • Humanity always produces as much as it needs. If not, people die and the equilibrium is re-established. It comes to producing as much as we want, and that, as given in one example, is pretty much limitless. Scarcity of resources in that respect is inevitable and the distribution of those resources is fairly well addressed by capitalism. I doubt there will be a better way to distribute them until our super-AI comes online to figure it all out for us. Until then, humans are provably terrible at guessing

      • Humanity always produces as much as it needs. If not, people die and the equilibrium is re-established.

        This is patently false. We are currently producing much more than we need, to the detriment of all.

    • by WSOGMM (1460481)

      Well beyond humanoids.

      It's so beautiful, interesting, and yet creepy in a way.

      Humanity's advances in certain areas (like robotics) are amazing.

      Not to mention the trendy music!

    • by Xest (935314)

      "We are still in diapers in weak AI, and not even started in strong AI."

      What do you mean "started"? Weak AI is the path to strong AI, it's not binary, it's a spectrum and at some point weak AI research will develop enough for the fruits of it to cross the boundaries into strong AI. Weak AI IS a start towards strong AI, strong AI isn't something we can just jump into blind.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not just AI that's way behind... It's the entire software fiasco. Think about it: we're still in a pathetic world of viruses, trojans, SQL-injections, etc. The software world is decades behind the hardware world.

      I don't know if, nor when, we'll see AI. But I can tell you that it won't happen on a machine running Windows.

      • The genetic software world which runs our bodies still can get viruses after billions of years. And that despite us having a quite sophisticated AV system in our bodies.

        And even our mental software is not always immune against malware. Proof: 9/11.
        Or at a lower scale: Every popular myth out there.

        Indeed, I would not be surprised if genetic viruses could manipulate our mental system in order to spread (e.g. if AIDS turned out to make infected people want more sex).

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        It's not just AI that's way behind... It's the entire software fiasco. Think about it: we're still in a pathetic world of viruses, trojans, SQL-injections, etc. The software world is decades behind the hardware world.

        I don't know if, nor when, we'll see AI. But I can tell you that it won't happen on a machine running Windows.

        Nor will it happen on a binary computer running OSX, Linux or any other currently existing software.
        Next question?

    • I didn't find it uncanny at all myself.

      This 'Air Jelly' also very cool: Air Jelly [youtube.com]
    • by MaDeR (826021)
      "We are still based on the stupid principle of scarcity."
      I see reality is optional for you. Don't worry, there a LOT of folks like you on Internet.

      Hint, hint: that you do not like some concept does not mean it does not exist.
  • Wow (Score:3, Insightful)

    by JazzyMusicMan (1012801) on Monday March 28, 2011 @01:04AM (#35635346)
    This is quite simply amazing. And even though it's not perfect, can you imagine the implications of this? Everything from weaponization to ornithology. Imagine being able to observe a flock of birds on a migratory route as part of the flock! It's really quite stunning.
    • by c0lo (1497653)

      This is quite simply amazing. And even though it's not perfect, can you imagine the implications of this? Everything from weaponization to ornithology. Imagine being able to observe a flock of birds on a migratory route as part of the flock! It's really quite stunning.

      Implications of this? Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    • Imagine being able to observe a flock of birds on a migratory route as part of the flock!

      That reminded me of the guy with an ultra-light airplane dressed up to sorta look a bit like a goose. I can't remember if he was working with geese that for some reason or other didn't know what their migration route should be or if he was just studying an existing flock.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      Do you think the other birds won't notice you're a fucking robot?
  • it fills me with joy. I wonder if other birds will attack it.
    • by andrewme (1562981)
      Imagine the expensive horror of a predatory hawk soaring away with it! Maybe it should have an auto-destruct mechanism to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands... erm, talons.
      • Hmm, its 2m wingspan will discourage the hawks. This weekend I was soaring my 1.5m eHawk, circling amidst a flock of 5 buzzards (larger than hawks) which seemed to appreciated the company !
    • by ghostdoc (1235612)

      agree, it is beautiful. I consider myself lucky to be alive at a time when we're making such things as this :)

    • That's one Touring test for birds.

      Another would be for it to get married.

  • It came with my car as a standard feature. Along with automatic jacks, belt tires, cutter blades, deflectors.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    "see those birds? at some point, a program was written to govern those." - The Oracle

  • Somehow I get the weird feeling that this is a helium filled lighter than air or at least neutral buoyancy device with wings.

    On the other hand, in the video it's uncannily like a bird in its flght movements and extremely agile on turns. I'm guessing this is an experiment to work out the mechanics of creating a flapping wing rather than on figuring out how to deliver lifting power off it.

  • by Lord_of_the_nerf (895604) on Monday March 28, 2011 @01:51AM (#35635582)
    I'm surprised they let Uwe Boll rob Hitchcock's grave.
  • Haven't you heard? (Score:4, Informative)

    by degeneratemonkey (1405019) on Monday March 28, 2011 @01:55AM (#35635594)
    About the word? Ba-ba-ba-... *ahem*... I, for one, welcome our new cybornithological overlords.
  • As stated in the animation: 'pecisely twisted'. Makes me wonder.

  • yum (Score:1, Funny)

    by gasmower (451721)

    tastes like chicken

  • These lazy-ass engineers need to put some flapping wings on a car. So what the hell is a bird supposed to do besides flying and pooping on car windshields?

    OK, I guess that some birds don't fly, like ostriches, dodo birds, and moas. But dodos and moas are extinct, which demonstrates the advantage of being able to fly. Oh, turkeys can't fly either, but they taste good on the dinner table during Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    I hope I will live to see the day when Slashdot announces that someone has invented

    • by Muad'Dave (255648)

      Oh, turkeys can't fly either...

      Wild turkey can and do fly. They can't land worth a darn, though. I was turkey hunting once when one came in for a landing nearby - it was as if God had let slip a feathered bowling ball into the woods. That bird must've crashed through 50 feet of small trees and underbrush before rolling to a stop.

  • The AquaPenguin video is pretty cool too, but the eerie glowing blue eyes are creepy.
  • ...we have the Watchbird [imdb.com]?
    And how long before it goes disastrously wrong [imdb.com]?

  • But why doesn't the video show it taking off and landing?

    • The brochure says "This bionic technology-bearer, which is inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly and land autonomously – with no additional drive mechanism".
    • by spacefem (443435)

      That was my thought too. The flapping wings are cool but anyone who's ever taken a flying lesson knows that there's not much art to moving around in air. Landing takes incredible precision and control. I don't care what the website claims, I'll believe it when I see it.

  • This bird is magnificent. The animation and the film on the web site show an elegant mechanism, beautifully implemented.

    It looks as though it is behaving as a bird behaves. It looks like it is thinking like a bird. Push the wings. Look around. Choose a direction. Push the wings.

    I'd love to see a pelican version, gliding in 20 knots by the beach.

  • Does it twitter what it sees?

  • Theo Jansen does this [youtube.com] with terrestrial animoids.
  • I watched the video, and it reminds me a lot of the Tim bird: http://www.amazon.com/Schylling-NTN-Tim-Bird/dp/B000ELORZO [amazon.com].

    Not to take away from what they've done, but it really does seem to fly like Tim. So basically the Tim toy with an electric motor instead of a wound up rubber band, and maybe remote control to help steer. Ok, granted it looks like the head moves but I wasn't blown away.

    Still its pretty cool, but I didn't see them do anything awesome. How about gliding? Seems pretty basic to me, flap, flap

    • by SheeEttin (899897)
      I had one of those when I was a kid. I can tell you, it, like many other toys in its class, made great claims, but hardly worked.
  • Festo does it again. Festo is a German robotics firm, and a very good one. Each year, they do a technical tour de force like this as a demo. They've previously done a swimming dolphin robot, a lighter-than-air flying jellyfish, and several other projects. Their overall direction is to learn to control very flexible systems, moving robotics away from the very rigid machines currently used.

    American companies used to do things like that in the 1950s and 1960s. Japanese companies did that until the 1990s. W

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