Post from Jeffrey Winters:
Flying robots are doing the most amazing things these days. (See this from a few months back.) The most recent example comes from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where engineers are developing a robot that’s a fairly radical departure from what we’ve grown accustomed to seeing.
Most flying robots come in two basic types: autonomous airplanes—the kinds of drones that circle over battlefields doing reconnaissance or launching missiles—and helicopters with two, four, or more rotors, which are much more common among hobbyists. The Illinois researchers, led by Soon-Jo Chung, an assistant professor of aerospace engineering, and postdoctoral student Aditya Paranjape, are working on a different paradigm altogether. Their flying robot has articulated wings that bend and flap like birds’ wings. And just as birds can, the Illinois flying robot can swoop to a location, pull up, and then perch on a human hand.
It’s beautiful to watch, but right now Chung and Paranjape’s flying robot is limited to gliding. And whether it develops beyond this clever trick to become as versatile as a quadcopter remains to be seen. But it’s fascinating to see so many ideas that were tried out and discarded in the days before and shortly after the Wright Brothers getting another look in the 21st century.