This is made possible by sophisticated control algorithms, coupled with an innovative design of the airplane itself. The prototype has articulated wings and no vertical tail, allowing it to complete a variety of maneuvers that conventional aircraft are simply not capable of.
Researchers drew their inspiration from how actual birds fly, since they had millions of years at their disposal to become as efficient as possible at flying. Basically, what the team did was emulate the control functions that birds employ when approaching the target. This is visible in the video below.
The thing about actual birds is that they are just as energy-efficient when flapping their wings, and when gliding towards a target. Previous studies have revealed huge shift in wing angle when the creatures approach an object they wish to land on.
ARCL investigators tried to insert the same capabilities in their new flying robots. The results are amazing. “We believe we have the first demonstration of autonomous/robotic flight of a bird-like micro aerial vehicle (MAV) perching on a human hand,” Soon-Jo Chung explains.
The expert holds an appointment as an assistant professor with the UIUC Department of Aerospace Engineering. He says that, rather than using regular actuators, the team decided to control and maneuver their flying robot using ornothopter wings' inherent ability to be reoriented.
“The driving philosophy behind the work is that the maneuverability and control efficiency of avian flight can be replicated by applying their actuation and control principles to advanced MAVs designed on the size scale of small birds,” Aditya Paranjape adds.
The expert, who holds an appointment as a postdoctoral scholar at UIUC, carried out large parts of the work while compiling his PhD thesis. “We have developed an articulated-wing-based concept for an agile robotic aircraft inspired by birds,” he explains.
“Of all maneuvers executed by flapping wing aircraft in a gliding phase, a perched landing is arguably the most challenging,” the expert adds, quoted by Science Blog. He says that this maneuver lasts for a very brief period of time, and requires tremendous position accuracy to be completed.