Swiss scientists have created a robotic bird to observe nature

By Ann Kernahan, December 2022

So far, robots that flap their wings like birds to fly have been unable to land. The 700-gram robot bird is the first of its kind to succeed. It can take off on its own and land on a horizontal bar by clinging to it with its mechanical claws.

As simple as it may look in nature, landing a bird on a tree branch is a complex manoeuvre, experts at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL) say. The robot must be able to slow down significantly without crashing, and the claw must be strong enough to hold the perch.

In addition, the 'bird' must be able to perceive its surroundings and determine its speed and flight trajectories. To do this, scientists have equipped the ornithopter with a full-fledged on-board computer and navigation system.

Because the robot can move more quietly and stealthily without a propeller than, for example, drones, it is ideal for observing nature. Wild animals are easily disturbed. In addition, the apparatus comes in handy for inspecting pipes and power lines.

For the time being, the robot could only land indoors. While outdoors, the ornithopter has not yet been able to locate a tree branch with sufficient accuracy.