October 7, 2008 We’ve written about rodent-inspired robots, jackets based on pinecones, and exoskeletons modeled on penguins. Now Sankar Chatterjee and Richard Lind, (scientists at Texas Tech University and the University of Florida respectively), have added to the list of nature-inspired 21st Century tech by using a 228-million-year-old pterodactyl as the basis for a UAV. The 30-inch robotic craft would alter its wing shape to “squeeze through confined spaces, dive between buildings, travel under overpasses, land on apartment balconies, and sail along the coastline.”

When a complete Tapejara wellnhoferi was discovered in Brazil 10 years ago, scientists were puzzled by a feature that seemed highly un-airworthy, by aviation standards: a head-mounted rudder. While the tail-mounted rudders on airplanes act as stabilizers, executing smooth, slow turns, the Tapejara’a 8-inch crest gave it maximum maneuverability. The extreme dipping and diving might not be so good for a passenger plane, but it could make for one serious UAV, able to navigate an urban environment with ease.

Sam Humbert, of the University of Maryland, says “It's nice to have something stable, but the military is interested in having aircraft that can fly down into cities between buildings, avoiding wires and stuff like that. This is a good design if you want to do crazy acrobatic maneuvers.”

The proposed UAV would be used for surveillance, gathering auditory, visual, and even olfactory data, and transmitting it to command centers. This concept will be presented today at the Annual Meeting of the Geological Society of America in Houston.

Kyle Sherer

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