Of the many benefits to 3D printing, complex geometries and reduced weight are two that synergize tremendously well. Because of this specific perk, printing aircraft components lends great advantages to flying efficiently, whether that’s F-35s or UAVs. Not all aircrafts use stationary wings though, and this is where 3D printing is further enabling other recent technological advances. Insects and birds use flapping wings to fly, but it’s historically been quite difficult to replicate. In 2013 that’s not a deterrent for the US Army, as the University of Maryland’s Maryland Robotics Center was commissioned to create the Robo-Raven for remote surveillance purposes.
The combination of lightweight 3D components, improved photovoltaic solar cells, and ever-shrinking electronics is what allows the Robo-Raven to perform so well that it fools real birds. Mechanical engineer with the Vehicle Technology Directorate at the U.S. Army’s Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland, John Gerdes, commented that Robo-Raven “already attracts attention from birds in the area which tends to hide its presence.” As a surveillance tool hiding is incredibly useful. Its wings are able to operate independently and that allows it to execute realistic maneuvers such as diving and rolling. The movements are so natural that they draw the attention of songbirds and crows, which will fly in formation with the robotic avian. Birds of prey, however, see it as a target and sometimes attack it. Obviously that’s counterproductive, so methods of avoiding such birds will need to be developed.
This technology will certainly be shrunk down to dragonfly size, and that will be even more covert. Of course, then they’ll have to worry about it being completely devoured by hawks and falcons. Totally worth it.
Source: Washington Times