April 25, 2008 — Many people have heard or seen a bird fly into a window. But not too many can say they’ve seen a bird robot fly into a tree.
While the micro-aircraft called RoboSwift successfully flew during a test flight in March at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, it ended its flight by crashing into a tree, LiveScience reported.
RoboSwift flew for about five minutes in windy conditions at an altitude of about 650 yards. "It first flew through a tree and landed in another; it crashed," said Wageningen University’s David Lentink.
But RoboSwift isn’t just a model airplane. It is a micro-aircraft that can morph its wings like the fast-flying bird — the swift — that it is named after. It weighs less than three ounces, has a 20-inch wingspan and it even has feathers — albeit only four on each wing. However, by folding these feathers over one another and sweeping them back and forth, the aircraft is able to reduce drag by changing its wing shape and the surface area exposed to the elements.
Its small size and onboard low-resolution cameras make RoboSwift a possible soaring spy. The craft could make scientific observations of wild birds without disturbing them or hover above crowds of people or vehicles for government and law enforcement surveillance purposes.
Lentink and aerospace engineering students from Delft University of Technology in cooperation with Wageningen University designed the craft. In the future, RoboSwift will get lessons in bird-flying behaviors such as gliding. When gliding, the motor will be turned off and the propeller will fold up so the aircraft can fly even more quietly and save energy.
RoboSwift, a micro-aircraft inspired by the common swift bird, made its first flight in the Netherlands in March.
Credit: Wageningen UR / Guy Ackermans.
The RoboSwift aircraft flew for about 5 minutes before it crashed into a tree. Credit: Wageningen UR / Guy Ackermans.
See how the morphing airplane works
Click to watch a LiveScience video about the RoboSwift.