Feb. 23, 2015 | By Alec

While 3D printed drones, quadcopters and even the occaissonal RC flying wing can be seen all the time on 3D printing forums, a bird is something we rarely come across. Almost two years ago, we first reported on a project by scientists and students from the University of Maryland that actually looked quite good, but a bird’s motions are simply too complex to completely replicate.

Or is it? For now that same team of Maryland scientists have just revealed in a publication in the Soft Robotics journal that they’ve gotten pretty close to the real thing. Lead by professor of mechanical engineering Satyandra K. Gupta, they have made a 3D printed bird-like drone (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle, UAV) called the Robo Raven that can almost fly, swoop and dive like an actual bird. In one test flight, an actual hawk briefly joined their robotic creation in the air, possibly assuming it was a real bird. When coming closer, it flew off again, probably because even the Robo Raven can’t mimic the exact movements of a bird.

Now you might wonder why engineers would put so much time and effort into recreating a bird’s flight movements, but that’s because FWAVs (or Flapping wing air vehicles, a drone with wings) are theoretically safer and quieter alternatives to quadcopter-like drones. And in that case, you just have to look at birds for inspiration. ‘Birds are an important source of biological inspiration for the development of FWAVs because their highly deformable wings achieve a wide range of shapes to control aerodynamic forces for rapid maneuvering and flight stability in confined spaces to avoid obstacles and to land,’ the team explains in their article, entitled Robo Raven: A Flapping-Wing Air Vehicle with Highly Compliant and Independently Controlled Wings.

The Robo Raven is remarkably more successful than earlier attempts thanks to two innovations: for one, it uses different actuators in both wings that move independently of each other. ‘Most FWAVs use a single actuator to flap both wings. This couples and synchronizes motions of the wings, which only provides variable rate flapping at constant amplitude to control wing deformations,’ the Maryland team writes. ‘Independent wing control has the potential to provide a greater flight envelope through the ability to program wing motions to achieve a desired wing shape and associated aerodynamic forces.’ In short, it enables the Robo Raven to complete far more complicated flight patterns, just like a real bird would.

But as you can imagine, this adds a lot of extra weight to the Robo Raven, and this is where the second innovation comes in: 3D printing. This enabled the integration of much lighter 3D printed components, enabling the Robo Raven to perform ‘dives, flips, and buttonhook turns, demonstrating the capability of bio inspired aerobatic maneuvers afforded by the new design.’

But if you thinking that regular plastic parts aren’t up to the challenge of flying a robotic bird around, you are right; instead, the Maryland team relied on 3D printed polymer structures, which are lighter and stronger than typical plastic parts. There’s just one problem with the Robo Raven, and that is that no footage has been released of the bird in flight. All we have is an earlier clip featuring the RObo Raven being propelled into the air by an RC car (below). But to its credit, it looks great once it’s actually up there.

Of course the Robo Raven is still really a prototype robot, though the team is already very optimistic about their results. ‘This represents a new capability in both flight and research for FWAVs, and may improve the ability of future FWAVs to operate in adverse environments with more demanding mission requirements,’ the conclude. ‘We envision that this platform will represent a significant advance toward using FWAVs with highly compliant wings as a viable alternative to propeller-driven UAVs.’ Perhaps this means we’ll be seeing more 3D printed bird drones in the future?



Posted in 3D Printing Applications


Maybe you also like:


Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to

3ders.org Feeds 3ders.org twitter 3ders.org facebook   

About 3Ders.org

3Ders.org provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive