The latest research at MIT is not only paving the way to more agile autonomous aircraft, but it's a reminder of how much catching up we have to do to match the complexity and skill of the common bird. In a project that's been ongoing since 2005, Rick Cory and Russ Tedrake have developed a mathematical model of how a bird lands on a wire and emulated the move with an autonomous glider. To control the glider, they developed a system that allows the craft to keep an eye on itself and the position of the wire using external cameras, sending control data if adjustments have to be made. As it is, UAVs are generally limited to the same set of maneuvers that piloted aircraft have, but the researchers don't feel that this has to be the case. For their next trick they plan to take the show outside, as well as develop vehicles with flapping wings. This is all great, but we're holding out for a device that pitches (and wisecracks) as well as Woody Woodpecker.
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