One of the most impressive of the new flock is SmartBird, a prototype flier made by Festo, a German-based automation technology company. The remote-controlled aircraft has wowed audiences on a worldwide tour as it uncannily flies like its avian inspiration, a herring gull. Made mainly of carbon fiber, SmartBird weighs 0.88 pound and has a wingspan of 6.6 feet. A motor, housed in the torso, drives the lightweight wings and requires only a 7.4-volt battery to operate. The inner section of the machine’s split wings produces lift; propulsion comes from the outer wing area.
As the wings beat up and down, they aerodynamically twist to change their angle of attack (tilting upward or downward), using the same technique birds use to generate thrust. Meanwhile, the tail section tilts and rotates to guide the robot left or right, analogous to the way a bird’s tail feathers help with control and guidance.