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Festo's Smartbird - An Ultra Realistic Seagull Robot

A new robotic seagull called the SmartBird designed by the German company Festo that also created the autonomous robotic jellyfish and the elephant-trunk-inspired robotic arm is one of the most realistic animal inspired flying machines ever. To be specific, the robot is modelled after the herring gull and its flight motions and appearance is extremely similar to the real bird. Besides its startling similarities to a real bird, another amazing feature of the robot is that it can take off and land autonomously without any additional drive systems.

To achieve flight, Festo designed the robot with wings that not only beat up and down, but bend at specific spots just like what the wings of a normal bird do in flight. When flying, a lever mechanism increases the degree of deflection from the torso to the wing. The wings can also twist in such a way that during the upwards stroke, the leading edge of the wing is slightly upwards. This is called a positive angle of attack.

Direction can be changed by the opposing motion of the head and torso of the bird. This movement is synchronised by cables and two electric motors. The tail's movements also help change directions. It can tilt left or right to initiate turns or move left to right to generate yaw. The tail also acts as stabilizer and a pitch elevator.

The robot has a wing span of about 2 m (6.5 feet), which is much larger than an actual herring gull, and has a weight of about 400 g (1 pound). To achieve this weight, the company used lightweight carbon fibre in the body of the bird.

All these design features result in a robot that is light and agile with excellent aerodynamic qualities. In developing the Smartbird, the company says it has successfully deciphered bird flight, "one of the oldest dreams of humankind". They also say that the development of this technology with its functional integration of coupled drive units yields significant ideas and insights that the company can then apply to hybrid drive technology.

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