RoboSwift – the micro airplane with morphing, feathered wings

July 24, 2007 Micro air vehicles and Unmanned Aerial Systems have made Gizmag headlines in the past, (Reaper, Taranis, Snark and Camcopter to name just a few), and their success in the US military suggests we’ll see a lot more of them in the future. The flexibility of the scale, and the fact there’s no one in the cockpit to get injured, means that the field lends itself to unconventional vehicle designs. RoboSwift, designed by Delft University of Technology and Wageningen University in The Netherlands, is a remarkable model that has used cutting edge technology to recreate the adaptive movements of nature’s stealth aircraft – the swift.

By subtly shifting the shape, surface area and position of its wings, the common swift is able to fly over one million miles in its lifetime, making it one of the most efficient fliers in the animal kingdom. The developers behind RoboSwift recognized that by creating artificial wings that reacted in a similar matter, they could greatly increase the effectiveness of a vehicle. The 80 gram RoboSwift has a wingspan of 50cm – but instead of the fixed wings typical amongst its type, its wings are a configuration of four “feathers” that, when shifted, take advantage of prevailing wind conditions. This unprecedented design allows the RoboSwift to follow a group of swifts for 20 minutes, and stay airborne for one hour, assisted only by a battery powered propeller which can fold back during periods of gliding.

The RoboSwift is fitted with three cameras, one on each wing and one looking downward – the pilot can monitor the course of RoboSwift by observing a projection of the cameras on a head mounted display. The RoboSwift team will build three RoboSwifts to participate in the First American-Asian Micro Air Vehicle competition in March 2008.

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