At every level and every altitude, the world today is an unhappy place growing ever more turgid and lethal. Keeping current with local, state, national, and world events can inspire hope’s suicide. If there is a hotline holding promise of something to celebrate, it might be Facebook. There a friend introduced me to the SmartBird. Watching it fly—and learning about its creator—turned around what would have been another day in dystopia.
Created by Festo, a German company, the SmartBird’s ability to take off and land autonomously, and the lightweight “articulated torsional drive unit” that twists the wings to the optimal angles for flapping flight is, without a doubt, cool. Humans have been puzzling over this since Leonardo da Vinci first looked up and said, “Huh, I wonder how they do that?”
Festo’s day job is automation. A world leader in pneumatic and electric drive technology, it supplies process and factory automation to 300,000 customers in 200 different industries. Working with universities, institutes, and development companies, Festo created the Bionic Learning Network to, among other things, “transfer nature’s strategy of efficiency to automation technology.”
It started in 2006 with five projects, including a remote controlled, pneumatically driven fish, the Airacuda. Dynamically, air and water are fluids of different densities. The network created manta rays, jelly fish, and penguins to gracefully and autonomously navigate in both of them.
Festo’s projects have examined other animals. The elephant’s trunk has led to several devices, such as the Bionic Handling Assistant and the Bionic Tripod, all with FinGrippers, which have the gentle, conforming grip of human fingers. When sinking in the quagmire of seemingly universal turmoil, there’s nothing we need more than a helping hand and the calming sight of a bird freely navigating a peaceful sky. – Scott Spangler