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Flying robotic seagull attracts flock of birds

July 26, 2011 |  3:41 pm

German engineering firm Festo has developed a robotic seagull that’s so lifelike it appeared to fool real birds into thinking that it was part of the flock.

SmartBird is an ultralight flapping-wing robot inspired by the herring gull, and it can start, fly and land autonomously, Festo said. It weighs less than a pound and has a 6 1/2-foot wingspan, according to a company fact sheet.

Watch in the video above as the SmartBird coasts above the crowd and attracts a nearby flock of birds. According to the YouTube post, the flight took place at TEDGlobal 2011, an annual five-day technology conference in Edinburgh, Scotland.

TED, or Technology Entertainment and Design, the organization that held the event, posted another video of SmartBird as it flew indoors. Tech geeks and aerospace nerds alike gave it a standing ovation.

“The audience watches in awe as the robotic SmartBird -- powered simply by the motion of its wings -- takes flight over their heads in the TEDGlobal theater,” the post says.

Now that it has gotten the attention of both human and avian crowds, who knows what’s next for the company?

"We try to mimic nature," said Festo designer Markus Fischer in the YouTube video.

This year, AeroVironment Inc. in Monrovia unveiled a pocket-size drone, dubbed the Nano Hummingbird, which mimicked the flight of a real life hummingbird. Outfitted with a tiny camera, the little drone was developed with funding from the Pentagon. Some analysts say the technology might find its way as a mini-spy plane on the battlefield or in urban areas.


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-- W.J. Hennigan