Robot bird takes flight

Festo, creators of robot penguins and a robotic elephant trunk, created the majestic robot bird in this video. From New Scientist:

SmartBird is modelled on the herring gull and can take off, fly and land while its flight is controlled remotely from the ground in real time.

To take off, the robotic bird flaps its wings with the help of an onboard motor. As the wings beat, the front edge also twists, enabling airflow along the wings to generate thrust. Once in flight, the tail acts as a rudder to steer the bird through the air. The technology could be used to design "stroke wing generators" - devices that produce energy from water.

"Robot bird soars through the sky"


  1. it’s amazing that someone could build something so cool while having that particular taste in muzak.

  2. Robot flying in the dead of night
    Take these plastic wings and learn to fly
    All your life
    You were only waiting for a battery to arrive

  3. This is pretty stunning stuff. But there are some caveats that aren’t noticeable from the video:

    It has a 2 meter wingspan. It’s huge! And it only weighs about a pound, so this thing is more like a giant actuated kite.

    Their previous robots like the Jelly, used helium to help lift it up. This is big enough to have helium as well, and they don’t say if they are using it.

    Nonetheless, bravo. I want one, now. Immediately.

  4. What came first William Gibson’s shiny metallic penguin surveillance drone in “Zero History” or Festo’s robots?

    1. “What came first William Gibson’s shiny metallic penguin surveillance drone in “Zero History” or Festo’s robots?”

      Considering he refers to them in Zero History specifically AS “the Festo Air Penguin” I’m going to guess it was the…. Festo Air Penguin. :-)

      When I first read Zero History, I thought it was purely of his imagination. I decided to Google it, and still couldn’t quite believe the unbelievable videos I found online. I figured it must be some viral Zero History marketing thing.

      Upon doing more research and realizing that is was all REAL, I kind of had a mini flip-out (the kind I enjoy terribly) and realized that yes, we do, officially, live in “The Future.” :-D The fact that Gibson can write sci-fi novels that are quite believable, and take place in the present-tense — well shit, I’ve been waiting for this moment since I was about 13 years old in 1991, or about then, when I first read Neuromancer, and read Mondo 2000. If memory serves, Boing Boing the ‘zine was out about then, too. Yeah…. I was kind of a geeky little kid. :)

    2. Not much of a mystery, considering the name Festo appears throughout the (imo really good) book, and they have been around for at least a couple of years now.

  5. Never before has a robot looked so much like the animal it imitates, both in its shape and its motion. It’s so refreshing to see a machine fly like a real bird instead of with a propeller.

    Now it’s only a matter of time till Hitchcock’s movie is remade with 2-meter wingspan robot birds attacking the populace.

  6. I have been following Festo for a while. They have some pretty cool robotic animals. I love this nature-inspired design approach. We surely have a lot to learn from systems of locomotion that have been robustly tested over millions of years through natural selection. I had noticed that a lot of the previous robot videos, used tests that mostly took place indoors or in windless conditions. I am impressed to see this one has some footage outside, but I wonder how adaptable this robot really is in windy conditions.

  7. It has a 2 meter wingspan. It’s huge! And it only weighs about a pound, so this thing is more like a giant actuated kite.

    A real herring gull has a 120-150cm wingspan and weighs 800-1200grams.

    So, that’s 1.2-1.5 meters compared to 2, and 1.75-2.75lbs to 1. It’s not like it’s off by orders of magnitude or anything.

    I want one, where can I order it?

    1. I wonder at what point scaling up loses its airworthiness. I’d love to see a Spruce Goose sized robo-bird.

      Y’know. Until it turns on its masters.

      1. Here’s one that appears to be even bigger than that!

        But it’s probably not what you had in mind.

      2. > Y’know. Until it turns on its masters.

        At least well have baby pictures. “And this is little Festo before it enslaved the human race. They bootstrap so quickly.”

        Unrelatedly, why does this make me think of Dune?

        Also, I wonder if any nearby birds had a serious WTF moment.


  8. “The technology could be used to design ‘stroke wing generators’ – devices that produce energy from water.”

    (Cynicism alert)

    Please…we all know there are men of means already salivating at the potential militarization of this technology. Talk about your angry birds.

  9. How sad that Crawford Greenwalt didn’t live to see this. He was fascinated by birds and wanted to leave a significant portion of his millions to research the mechanical aspects of bird flight. I don’t think he ever found anyone willing to commit to his behest; the Academy turned him down because the Ornithology department at the time was obsessively focused on DNA phylogeny.

    This thing is a true ornithopter, but it seems more like a bat than a bird to me, despite its shape. As I understand it, birds constantly tweak the positions of individual feathers, creating a more complex and dynamic airfoil than this.

  10. Change it from a seagull to a pterodactyl, scale it up to Jonny Quest size, and give it that horrific echoing shriek.

    Then we can don our jetpacks, grab our bazookas, and commence the most awesome real life re-creation OF ALL TIME!

  11. Da Vinci would be proud!!

    @Ugly Canuck…That’s just jumped to the top of my must see list!!

    1. That’s just jumped to the top of my must see list!!

      OMG, me too! Let’s double-date down to the Santee Twin Drive-In!

      Great Caesar’s Ghost, U.C., how do you find these wonderful, wonderful things?

  12. From a purely visual perspective — just watching the motion — what amazes is how realistic it looks, and at the same time how far it falls short of a real bird’s grace.

  13. this thing would make a wicked inconspicuous spy bird, as long as it flew high enough and was powered with some super long life batteries.

  14. From the video it appears to have a mass relationship to the air approaching to a goldfish in water, which suggests that it is supported by helium. Nonetheless, the mechanical wing structure is the most impressive element and surpasses the ornothopter in mechanical design by one dimension. Looking forward to when they make mechanical cubics rather than quadratics to get some life like swimming motions also.

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