RoboSwift Takes to the Air

March 12, 2008 by  
Filed under Features

The common swift is known for its exceptional flying capabilities. It has been discovered that the swift flies more than three million kilometers in its lifetime. This almost constant and seemingly effortless flight is produced by the swift being able to change the form of its wings. As it is able to move its wings back and forth according to flight conditions, the swift ends up being able to ride the wind and produce staggering maneuverability and efficiency in the air. It was this magnificent little bird that sparked the invention of RoboSwift.

A group of students studying aerospace engineering at Delft University of Technology joined forces with the Experimental Zoology Group of Wageningen University, in the Netherlands, to design and build a robotic micro-aircraft version of the swift. This magnificent feat of engineering took to the skies recently, generating praise and commendation. The design is currently being put to the final test at the American-Asian Micro Air Vehicle Competition in India, which started on 10 March and will end on 15 March.

To design the fifty centimeter wingspan for RoboSwift, engineers looked to the living swift for guidance. RoboSwift has therefore been fitted with moveable wings that can be steered forward and backward, allowing the aircraft to move in a very similar fashion to its feathered counterpart. The body of the aircraft has also been designed to mimic the appearance of a swift, and propellers and tail planes have been created from transparent materials, to be less obvious. The RoboSwift is fitted with an electrical motor, and during times when the pilot needs to glide through the air, the motor is turned off and the propeller folds away, allowing the RoboSwift to save power and achieve silent flight. These unique features will permit the RoboSwift to get near other bird species for research programs, but its surveillance capabilities have already been noticed by the Dutch National Police Services, which believes that RoboSwift can assist them during road accidents, law enforcement surveillance and other related functions.

There are also three tiny cameras on board the RoboSwift, each feeding its visual information to ground surveillance teams through a wireless link. One camera is positioned to record the ground below, and two are focused to the front, to assist with piloting and recording footage in the air. Pilot training will ensure that the RoboSwift flies in the same format as normal swifts would, and to make certain that if someone takes the time to look up from their daily lives, they will just see another swift dancing on the coattails of the wind.

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