Engineers did such a good job designing a robotic bird drone for the U.S. Army the drone, dubbed Robo Raven, was attacked by real birds during test flights.
Developed at the Maryland Robotics Center, Robo Raven is made of 3D-printed, lightweight and thermal-resistant plastic in addition to carbon fiber, foam and Mylar foil.
Robo Raven is almost 2 feet long and weighs less than a can of soda. It was originally developed in 2007 by University of Maryland professors S. K. Gupta and Hugh Bruck, and went through several models before arriving at the current design.
What makes the current model so realistic is its ability to move each wing independently, and so it can perform more complex aerobatic maneuvers to glide, soar, dive and flap like a real bird.
"Robo Raven is based on a fundamentally new design concept," Gupta said in a release. "It uses two programmable motors that can be synchronized electronically to coordinate motion between the wings."
Flacons and hawks, known for keen vision, swoop down to attack the Robo Raven. "Generally we don't see them coming," said mechanical engineer John Gerdes. "They will dive and attack by hitting the bird from above with their talons, then they typically fly away."
Controlled remotely with a handheld radio, the Robo Raven can't yet carry sensors and cameras as previous ornithopters could, due to a restrictive weight limit. Though researchers hope that Robo Raven will soon be able to fly autonomously in the field.