Flying Bird Bot uses its hawk legs to land on stuff


In October of this year, we reported a crow having serious issues with a cafe drone entering its airspace. This raised an important question: who will own the future sky (at low altitude), the birds or the drones? Now the third player has entered the game! A bird robot with falcon legs that allows it to land perfectly on perches.

William Roderick, a recently graduated PhD from Stanford University. student, led the effort to build the bird-bot. The final product took Roderick and his colleagues years to create as part of a National Science Foundation Fellowship in Perched Aerial Robots.

In the video above, Roderick shows the bird-like robot drone, “the stereotypical nature-inspired aerial gripper,” or SNAG. The mechanical engineer notes that the almighty peregrine falcon, a cosmopolitan bird of prey, inspired the robot’s legs. Something the real bird was able to do by serving as an inspection subject with five high speed cameras.

A perched bird-like robot with outstretched legs preparing to land on a branch in a forest.

“It’s not easy to emulate the way birds fly and roost,” Roderick said in a Stanford press release. “After millions of years of evolution, they make taking off and landing so easy, even amid all the complexity and variability of tree branches you would find in a forest.”

SNAG has two legs, each of which can move independently. Its rigid legs, along with its foot structures, act as “bones” for the robot. And its engines, like muscles. Roderick notes that SNAG’s legs work by first absorbing the kinetic energy created by landing on a surface. The robot then grabs its perch with claws in a way that mimics peregrine falcons. (Real birds use a stereotypical approach, regardless of what type of surface they land on.) Then, once the bird-bot grabs its perch, it uses a balancing algorithm to stabilize itself.

A peregrine falcon with its wings outstretched, landing on a branch.

As for the use cases, Roderick says the legs could help drones land safely after flights. Especially in the wooded regions of the world with more dynamic terrains. “Part of the underlying motivation for this work was to create tools that we can use to study the natural world,” Roderick added in the press release. “If we could have a robot that could act like a bird, it could open up whole new ways of studying the environment.”


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