Professor Anibal Ollero dusted off an old idea to solve a current problem and a Multi-billion dollar industry could be the result. A whole new kind of drone is about to come flapping overhead. The idea goes back a long way but modern technology and construction materials make things possible today that could never be done before.
New industry evolves
Birds have always been the model for human flight, manned or unmanned. There are things which birds take for granted that we haven’t been able to duplicate. Birds not only glide, they flap their wings. They can land on any handy surface. Drones we have today can’t do those things.
The helicopter type use massive amounts of energy whirling blades just to stay aloft. The plane types can stay up longer but where they land and take off from is limited. A new ornithopter industry is emerging from solving those limitations.
In coming years, robot birds could “be used to respond to emergencies or to hunt down drones posing a threat to safety or security.”
UAV’s in general are poised to “form a growing multi-billion dollar industry in the skies.” Everything from “emergency assistance to drug delivery, home deliveries and precision agriculture.”
In order to meet the demands of modern robotic flight systems, “efforts are under way to bolster flight efficiency and the intelligence of UAVs to better navigate built environments.” Various groups are trying their own ideas based on birds for inspiration. Industry leader Professor Anibal Ollero began his career as an electrical engineer at the University of Seville in Spain. He’s not happy with the current limitations.
“Standard drones with propellers can currently fly for maybe 20 to 30 minutes,” the professor relates. But, “the bird-like designs” can double that. “Conventional multi-rotors are very constrained in terms of time of flight and range. We want to increase this range by using the wind and the airflows.”
Ollero is in charge of the Griffin project. He wants to create a whole new industry centered around his prototypes of “highly autonomous, ultra-lightweight robot birds that can minimize energy in flight, perch on curved surfaces, carry out tasks with moving limbs and artificial beaks, and intelligently interact with people and the environment.”
Someday it may come with Alexa as standard equipment.
Ollero’s home-built birds already “carry integrated on-board computers and cameras for visual navigation.” Birds, he notes, “have a very complex body and exhibit complex behaviors.”
The thing which will boost the experiment to the level of an entire industry is the ability to “extract relevant features” for hybrid vehicles which flap their wings and perform other related tasks.
Bird like design also is a way to reduce noise and improve safety. They can land soft as a butterfly on an injured patient and send back telemetry information on condition, even put a mask on someone in a hazardous environment. It’s an advantage which will affect many different industry groups at the same time.
The team has been able to show success “with flapping wings both indoors and outdoors, and the ability to land on a small square platform 20 to 30 centimeters wide.” The next challenge, and it’s not as easy as it seems, is to “get the birds to perch on curved surfaces such as poles or cables without overbalancing, and then coordinate other functions.”