By David Vergun, Army News Service
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Nov. 6, 2015) — In the future, it’s possible that some unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs, might sport wings that flap like a bird or a butterfly.
The Army Research Lab, or ARL, is testing that concept at the Spesutie Island Robotics Research Facility on Chesapeake Bay.
John W. Gerdes III, mechanical engineer at the Vehicle Technology Directorate, has been testing such a UAV, known as Robo-Raven. He designed the vehicle in collaboration with the University of Maryland.
During an open house Nov. 3, Gerdes took Robo-Raven for three test flights. He held it aloft in his hand, sort of like a falconer might do. With the other hand, he switched on the transmitter — the sort found in hobby shops for drones and toy vehicles.
The wings started flapping immediately as soon as he threw it aloft. Up and away it went, flapping around in a light breeze more like a butterfly than a bird. A gust blew it backward, but Robo-Raven made course corrections on its own so that Gerdes continued to maintain nearly full control of its flight.
After a minute or two, a curious raptor, possibly a hawk, circled Robo-Raven from above. At this point, Gerdes decided to land his mechanical bird. He raised his arm, and Robo-Raven obediently landed on his outstretched hand.
Raptors, if given the chance, will destroy Robo-Raven, he said. Once in the past, he said he flew his bird up to about 300 feet and a falcon dive bombed it, destroying its gossamer wings.
Once the falcon disappeared, Gerdes launched a second flight. This time, a flock of seagulls circled it. Gerdes noted that non-birds of prey will come over to investigate, but will not attack Robo-Raven — at least not yet.
Unfortunately, Gerdes’ landing didn’t go as smoothly as the first and it crashed into the grass nearby. Fortunately, his half-pound bird sustained no damage. Observers wore hard hats and goggles, just to be safe.
Had his Robo-Raven been destroyed in a crash or by a raptor, Gerdes had two backups, each of which looked similar, but were slightly different in shape and size for testing.
The third flight went well and landed back in Gerdes’ hand.