TED Talk Audience Wowed as Robotic Bird Takes Flight (video)

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It was one of those TED talks that the audience is sure to remember – except, it’s not the talk that they’ll remember. In another testament to better engineering through mimicking biology, Festo’s SmartBird looked like the real thing as it flew above the upturned and amazed faces of the TED audience.

The SmartBird is part of the Bionic Learning Network, a collaboration between Festo, academic institutions and companies to incorporate biological principles into technology. Inspired by the seagull, the SmartBird’s lightweight wings twist as they beat up and down, maximizing efficiency of the simple drive system that powers the wings. And its automated guidance – random but avoiding collisions – makes the SmartBird seem as though it’s really got a mind of its own. You almost want to toss it a french fry.

Festo has wowed us before with robotics inspired by the animal kingdom. They’re elephant trunk-like grasping armflying penguins, and floating jellyfish bots are all sights to behold. Like the SmartBird, the likeness to nature is both impressive and beautiful. It’s only a matter of time before the technology behind Festo’s robotic zoo will be put to more practical uses than just jaw-dropping demonstrations. But for the time being, shows like the flight of the SmartBird will do just fine.

Peter Murray was born in Boston in 1973. He earned a PhD in neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore studying gene expression in the neocortex. Following his dissertation work he spent three years as a post-doctoral fellow at the same university studying brain mechanisms of pain and motor control. He completed a collection of short stories in 2010 and has been writing for Singula...

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