Travels from Germany
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Many engineers create remarkable new technology, but few manage to solve the most enduring mysteries of creation. Markus Fischer is among the latter. As head of corporate design at Festo, a German technology company, Fischer established the Bionic Learning Network. In 2011, the Bionic Learning Network solved the mystery of flight by developing a mechanical bird that could take off and fly just like a real bird. This SmartBird, modeled on a herring gull, has revolutionized our understanding of the mechanics of flight.
SmartBird is a precise replica of a real gull, right down to the way it shifts its wings during flight – in fact, real gulls have been taken in by the SmartBird’s charms! With a wingspan of almost 2 meters and a weight of just 450 grams, SmartBird models real birds’ energy-efficient movements and provides essential insight into understanding how engineers might apply these movements to other flight-related endeavors.
Fischer and his Bionic Learning Network team used biomimicry to develop other groundbreaking robotic creatures, from jellyfish to penguins, and even humanoids. Their creations have been showcased at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere in the world for their technical and aesthetic beauty.
Fischer has shared his wealth of insight with others since 2012 as an independent innovator in the fields of brand management, corporate design, bionics, and biomimetic technology.
One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to fly like a bird. Many, from Leonardo da Vinci to contemporary research teams, tried to crack the “code” for the flight of birds, unsuccessfully. Until in 2011 the engineers of the Bionic Learning Network established by Festo, a German technology company, developed a flight model of an artificial bird that’s capable of taking off and rising in the air by means of its flapping wings alone. It’s called SmartBird. Markus Fischer is Festo’s head of corporate design, where he’s responsible for a wide array of initiatives. He established the Bionic Learning Network in 2006.
SmartBird is inspired by the herring gull. The wings not only beat up and down but twist like those of a real bird — and seeing it fly leaves no doubt: it’s a perfect technical imitation of the natural model, just bigger. (Even birds think so.) Its wingspan is almost two meters, while its carbon-fiber structure weighs only 450 grams.
Fischer says: “We learned from the birds how to move the wings, but also the need to be very energy efficient.”
“[Fischer’s team] has created robot penguins and jellyfish in the search for more efficient designs for industrial automation. But of all their nature-inspired creation, Smartbird comes the closest of all to the real thing.”
– Wall Street Daily
If a picture is worth a thousand words, a flying robotic bird is worth millions – and that is exactly what Markus Fischer and his team produce to illustrate his remarkable achievement in solving the mysteries of avian flight.
A robotic simulation of a bird must be powerful, ultra-light, and possess the unique aerodynamic qualities that allow birds to achieve flight based on wing movement alone. As his team considered their options, Fischer relates, they quickly settled upon one familiar denizen of the seaside: “What would be better than to use the herring gull, circling and swooping in its freedom over the sea?” Fischer’s team included generalists and specialists in the fields of both aerodynamics and glider construction. Among other things, he jokingly notes, they had to build a bird light enough that nobody would be hurt if it fell!
With that, Fischer’s colleague releases the SmartBird, a soaring, blue-eyed miracle of modern technology, for a flight over the heads of his audience. Fischer then uses a “skinless” model to carefully explain to his awestruck listeners just how the bird works.
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