By the virtue of their size and speed, birds are uniquely capable of efficient flight while flapping their wings and while gliding. Researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have duplicated the control functions that allow birds to successfully perform a soft landing—in this case, perching on a human hand.
“We believe we have the first demonstration of autonomous/robotic flight of a bird-like micro aerial vehicle (MAV) perching on a human hand,” stated Soon-Jo Chung, an assistant professor in the Department of Aerospace Engineering at Illinois. Because the wings of ornithopters — birds or aircraft with flapping wing s— are inherently capable of being reoriented, this capability can be used for controlling and maneuvering the aircraft in a gliding phase, thereby eliminating the need for additional traditional actuators. Gliding is an effective way to conserve energy while soaring, descending, and landing. “The driving philosophy behind the work is that the maneuverability and control efficiency of avian flight can be replicated by applying their actuation and control principles to advanced MAVs designed on the size scale of small birds,” explained Aditya Paranjape, a postdoctoral scholar working on this project. The result is based on his PhD thesis and a series of journal papers with Chung. “We have developed an articulated-wing-based concept for an agile robotic aircraft inspired by birds,” Paranjape added. “Of all maneuvers executed by flapping wing aircraft in a gliding phase, a perched landing is arguably the most challenging.”