This autonomous ornithopter lands and sits on a single claw

This autonomous ornithopter lands and sits on a single claw

Isn’t it amazing that there are researchers whose job it is to simply make a robotic bird? That’s undoubtedly the goal of this lab, whose flapping-wing drone or ornithopter is now equipped with a grasping claw to lean on a nearby branch or perhaps even a finger—a capability that could do much more. a practical tool.

There’s a good reason why flight evolved over time to use flapping wings – it’s much easier for a bird or insect to grow than for rotors or jets. Elegance is the hallmark of nature’s patterns, and winged creatures fly or glide with minimal energy and a great deal of grace.

It should come as no surprise that scientists have been trying to recreate winged flapping flight in robotic form for decades, although, like all biomimetic research, it’s met with mixed success. But the École Polytechnique Fedérale de Lausanne – one of Switzerland’s famous technical universities – and the University of Seville are doing quite well.

The European multi-institutional project GRIFFIN, let’s face it first, has the most far-fetched backronym I’ve ever come across, and I’ve come across many: Universally compliant antenna Robotic handling system Integration of fixed and flapping wings to increase range and safety . My God!

The winged flight of the project has been going on for years, with various successes recorded on the project’s YouTube page and website. You can see it in this recent video.

But the problem with this method, as with many flights, is energy. Not enough power and you can’t fly for long – but too much battery and you can’t fly at all! (Incidentally, it gives one a new respect for eagles that carry off cattle.) In a laboratory, one must strike a balance between size and capacity. But the recent addition of a grappling claw could help make that less of a worry.

Thanks for the pictures: EPFL/Raphael Zufferey

The claw (just one to save weight), like the rest of the ornithopter, had to be strong but light, able to grasp perches of various sizes and work in communication with the GRIFFIN’s sentient engine. The one they designed synchronizes with the waving motion, and its design, with a kind of silicone tape as the first contact, holds the robot softly but firmly and without shaking.

Just don’t stick your finger in there. Thanks for the pictures: EPFL/Raphael Zufferey

“Once an ornithopter can autonomously land on a tree branch, it has the potential to perform specific tasks such as unobtrusively collecting biological samples or taking measurements from a tree. Eventually, it could even land on artificial structures, which could open up other areas of application,” said Raphael Zufferey, a postdoctoral fellow at EPFL currently working at GRIFFIN in Seville.

It’s not just that he can land on a branch and do something; the point is that it doesn’t have to come all the way back to the surface. If you’re using half the energy just to get from ground level to 10 meters up, it really limits what you can do. But if you can land on a branch, charge up a bit (why not have a small solar cell?), do some work like take a picture or sample, then jump to another branch across the road and do the same thing… it starts to look less like a tech demo and much more as a capable robot bird.

Zufferey hopes to continue developing in this direction; the tentacle really opens things up for the project. But they are not the only ones out there: drones inspired by hummingbirds, dragonflies, even drones inspired by bees are being developed for various purposes and are in various stages of readiness. Just don’t tell people “birds aren’t real” about it.

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