TEDGlobal 2011

Markus Fischer: A robot that flies like a bird

Filmed:

Plenty of robots can fly -- but none can fly like a real bird. That is, until Markus Fischer and his team at Festo built SmartBird, a large, lightweight robot, modeled on a seagull, that flies by flapping its wings. A soaring demo fresh from TEDGlobal 2011.

- Designer
Markus Fischer led the team at Festo that developed the first ultralight artificial bird capable of flying like a real bird. Full bio

It is a dream of mankind
00:15
to fly like a bird.
00:18
Birds are very agile.
00:20
They fly, not with rotating components,
00:22
so they fly only by flapping their wings.
00:25
So we looked at the birds,
00:28
and we tried to make a model
00:31
that is powerful, ultralight,
00:34
and it must have excellent aerodynamic qualities
00:37
that would fly by its own
00:41
and only by flapping its wings.
00:43
So what would be better [than] to use
00:46
the Herring Gull, in its freedom,
00:49
circling and swooping over the sea,
00:51
and [to] use this as a role model?
00:53
So we bring a team together.
00:56
There are generalists and also specialists
00:58
in the field of aerodynamics
01:01
in the field of building gliders.
01:04
And the task was to build
01:06
an ultralight indoor-flying model
01:08
that is able to fly over your heads.
01:11
So be careful later on.
01:14
And this was one issue:
01:19
to build it that lightweight
01:21
that no one would be hurt
01:23
if it fell down.
01:25
So why do we do all this?
01:28
We are a company in the field of automation,
01:30
and we'd like to do very lightweight structures
01:33
because that's energy efficient,
01:36
and we'd like to learn more about
01:38
pneumatics and air flow phenomena.
01:41
So I now would like you
01:44
to [put] your seat belts on
01:47
and put your hats [on].
01:49
So maybe we'll try it once --
01:51
to fly a SmartBird.
01:54
Thank you.
01:56
(Applause)
01:58
(Applause)
02:14
(Applause)
02:52
So we can now
03:07
look at the SmartBird.
03:09
So here is one without a skin.
03:12
We have a wingspan of about two meters.
03:15
The length is one meter and six,
03:18
and the weight,
03:21
it is only 450 grams.
03:23
And it is all out of carbon fiber.
03:26
In the middle we have a motor,
03:29
and we also have a gear in it,
03:31
and we use the gear
03:35
to transfer the circulation of the motor.
03:37
So within the motor, we have three Hall sensors,
03:40
so we know exactly where
03:43
the wing is.
03:46
And if we now beat up and down ...
03:49
we have the possibility
03:56
to fly like a bird.
03:58
So if you go down, you have the large area of propulsion,
04:00
and if you go up,
04:03
the wings are not that large,
04:06
and it is easier to get up.
04:10
So, the next thing we did,
04:14
or the challenges we did,
04:17
was to coordinate this movement.
04:19
We have to turn it, go up and go down.
04:22
We have a split wing.
04:25
With a split wing
04:27
we get the lift at the upper wing,
04:29
and we get the propulsion at the lower wing.
04:32
Also, we see
04:35
how we measure the aerodynamic efficiency.
04:37
We had knowledge about
04:40
the electromechanical efficiency
04:42
and then we can calculate
04:44
the aerodynamic efficiency.
04:46
So therefore,
04:48
it rises up from passive torsion to active torsion,
04:50
from 30 percent
04:53
up to 80 percent.
04:55
Next thing we have to do,
04:57
we have to control and regulate
04:59
the whole structure.
05:01
Only if you control and regulate it,
05:03
you will get that aerodynamic efficiency.
05:06
So the overall consumption of energy
05:09
is about 25 watts at takeoff
05:12
and 16 to 18 watts in flight.
05:15
Thank you.
05:18
(Applause)
05:20
Bruno Giussani: Markus, I think that we should fly it once more.
05:26
Markus Fischer: Yeah, sure.
05:29
(Laughter)
05:31
(Gasps)
05:53
(Cheers)
06:02
(Applause)
06:04

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About the Speaker:

Markus Fischer - Designer
Markus Fischer led the team at Festo that developed the first ultralight artificial bird capable of flying like a real bird.

Why you should listen

One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to fly like a bird. Many, from Leonardo da Vinci to contemporary research teams, tried to crack the "code" for the flight of birds, unsuccessfully. Until in 2011 the engineers of the Bionic Learning Network established by Festo, a German technology company, developed a flight model of an artificial bird that's capable of taking off and rising in the air by means of its flapping wings alone. It's called SmartBird. Markus Fischer is Festo's head of corporate design, where he's responsible for a wide array of initiatives. He established the Bionic Learning Network in 2006.

SmartBird is inspired by the herring gull. The wings not only beat up and down but twist like those of a real bird -- and seeing it fly leaves no doubt: it's a perfect technical imitation of the natural model, just bigger. (Even birds think so.) Its wingspan is almost two meters, while its carbon-fiber structure weighs only 450 grams.

Fischer says: "We learned from the birds how to move the wings, but also the need to be very energy efficient."

More profile about the speaker
Markus Fischer | Speaker | TED.com