Saturday, February 16, 2008

Spying On The Public Is For The Birds - The RoboSwift

Robotic Bird Designed To Spy On Humans
By Jeanna Bryner
Live Science

A shape-shifting, robotic bird that can sweep through the skies without a peep has all the right stuff for ground surveillance and even spying on its real-life inspiration—the common swift.

Engineering students presented their design of the so-called RoboSwift at an annual Design Synthesis symposium at the Delft University of Technology in The Netherlands. The robotic bird measures 20 inches (51cm) from wingtip to wingtip and weighs less than three ounces (80g).

By folding its feathers over one another and sweeping them back and forth, the bird changes its wing shape and the surface area exposed to the elements. The feathery adjustments boost flight efficiency and maneuverability.

The new robot has “unprecedented” features, the researchers say. It relies on only four “feathers” for morphing ability. To steer, it sweeps one wing back more than the other, creating a difference in lift force on the wings so that the craft can roll or make sharp turns in the air.

Like real birds, the robot can adjust both the wing shape and surface area continuously throughout flight. Onboard lithium-polymer batteries power an electromotor that drives a propeller, allowing RoboSwift to follow a group of real birds for 20 minutes or perform ground surveillance for an hour. The RoboSwift's propeller can also fold back to reduce air drag.

RoboSwift carries three onboard micro cameras, with two mounted on the wing and one in the belly pointing downward. A display mounted to the robo-plane’s head will beam the images to the ground where pilots can get a bird’s-eye view.

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