Robot Birds & Butterflies

birdwireWhat if we could create robots with the flight and flexibility of birds?

Scientists at the Harbin Institute of Technology in Weihai, China and UCLA have created a “dielectric elastomer rotary joint” that responds to electricity and recreates the motion of a flapping bird’s wing.

Instead of building flying machines with hard, inflexible wings, this technology could create more efficient, flexible and powerful wings.

ScienceDaily has more about the implications of the design:

“[It] may open doors for many novel soft devices, such as soft and lightweight robots for circumstances with restricted space and weight requirements or flapping wings of soft robotic birds that can generate a large lift force … [It is] good candidate for creating a soft and lightweight flapping wing for robotic birds, which would be more efficient than bird wings.”

This new material could ultimately change the way we design drones, filling our skies with a new variety of mechanical life.

Discover News has more about robot butterflies, a different kind of artificial life. The story illustrates how these tiny robots can interact in space:

“Each one weighs a mere 32 grams and has battery life for four minutes of flight … They butterflies are part of a swarming robotic system, where the flying behavior of several drones — each with a wingspan of 50 centimeters — are coordinated to move around a room without bumping into the walls, objects or each other.”

Watch them fly in this video…

Could this improve our lives? Or will it make our skies more dangerous?

Photo via Larry & Teddy Page

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