Robo Raven Developed By U.S. Army Fools Hawks Into Attacking [VIDEO]

By iScienceTimes Staff on June 7, 2013 4:20 PM EDT

robo raven
The Robo Raven, a robotic bird created by Army and University of Maryland scientists, is moves so realistically that actual birds have tried to fly with it--and have attacked it. (Photo: Screenshot: UMDRobotics YouTub)

The Robo Raven, a robotic bird created by Army and University of Maryland researchers, glides through the air so quietly and gracefully that real birds are fooled by it -- and attack it.

The Robo Raven was created as a possible future war agent, perhaps for stealth reconnaissance and surveillance missions.

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The robotic bird soars and flaps its wings like the genuine article, and can even move wings individually, something no other mechanical bird has been able to do, according to Army Research Laboratory researchers.

Making a bird that can move its wings individually, yet is not too heavy to fly, is very difficult, says SK Gupta, who worked on the bird at the University of Maryland.

At first, the researchers used two motors to power the Robo Raven's wings, but the battery and on-board controller made it too heavy. Gupta and his team then used 3D-printing and laser cutting to slim the bird down. The bird's wings are manipulated by an operator using a hand-held controller, like a toy car.

"We were inspired by the capabilities of the bird much more than the anatomy of the bird," said John Gerdes, a mechanical engineer at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, a facility where the military tests weapons and inventions. "Our approach was more bio-inspired than bio-mimetic. In some ways this simplifies the design because we can focus on functional aspects without necessarily adopting the same set of constraints that apply to animals."

Gerdes looked to the way birds are capable of flight, and incorporated some of those ideas into their design. For instance, they mimicked birds' hollow bones, which are lightweight to aid in flight.

"We use hollow stiffeners to provide a stiff and light-weight structure, and our wing spars have been arranged in a fan pattern to create the desired airfoil shape during the flapping motions," Gerdes said. "At any time, we can transition between these behaviors with total control over the wings."

In the end, they created a robotic bird that weighs less than a can of soda, and is 2-feet long.

During testing, birds like seagulls and crows have been seen trying to fly in formation with the Robo Raven, while falcons and hawks -- birds of prey -- have attacked the robotic bird.

"Generally we don't see them coming," Gerdes said of the birds of prey. "They will dive and attack by hitting the bird from above with their talons, then they typically fly away."

Watch below to see how the bird's realistic movements have fooled real birds into thinking it's one of them. At the 1:50 mark, you can see a hawk attack the Robo Raven.

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