Although winged micro air vehicles (MAVs) are pretty impressive in free flight, one of the skills that has proven difficult for them to master is the bird-like perched landing. Aerospace engineers from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, however, have now achieved it – they’ve developed an MAV that is capable of landing on an outstretched human hand.

According to the researchers, a bird’s typical perching maneuver consists of it gliding over to its landing spot, followed by a sudden swoop up – this slows it down and causes it to stall, so it can then drop down onto its perch. This is difficult for autonomous aircraft, as the action takes place very quickly, and requires great precision.

The MAV accomplishes it, however, via articulated wings with movable trailing edge flaps, and a movable horizontal bird-like tail. Controlling these flight surfaces is an onboard microcontroller, which is running custom algorithms.

“We believe we have the first demonstration of autonomous/robotic flight of a bird-like micro aerial vehicle perching on a human hand,” said assistant professor Soon-Jo Chung.

An engineer from Switzerland’s Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) has previously created an MAV that performs a type of perching, although it does so by flying straight into vertical surfaces and driving in nose-mounted steel prongs.

The U Illinois MAV can be seen in all its perching glory, in the video below.

View gallery - 2 images