Drones can be noisy, a characteristic that has not gone unnoticed by many, particularly by those involved in public safety and surveillance.
Now, one Icelander thinks he may have achieved what he calls the ‘holy grail’ of drone tech innovators – a drone that flies just like a bird, with flapping wings.
As reported by Business Insider, the AI-powered, bird-shaped UAV was created by renowned Icelandic inventor Hjalti Hardarson.
He calls it Flygildi, the Silent Flyer, and he says the concept is deceptively simple. “First, we build a bird-like device where we use seabirds as models. Secondly, we use evolutionary computational methods to teach the device to fly like a bird,” Hardarson explained.
Designed for vertical take off and landing, the flapping motion is extremely quiet and cannot be distinguished from real birds by a radar, the inventor says.
The bird-like drone only exists currently as a prototype which Hardarson has successfully tested in collaboration with with Leifur Thor Leifsson, Ph.D. in aerospace engineering and his team at Reykjavik University.
“We have already a flapping wing setup to generate lift and forward motion,” he said.
However Hardarson is yet to conduct a flight test without human control.
“It is still a work in progress,” Hardarson says. “We are constantly improving the flying performance.”
To achieve full bird-like flight, Flygildi has joined forces with the Swedish Chalmers University of Technology, who have applied their technology previously to devices such as walking gait robots.
“We are applying the evolutionary method of flying, and it works. We have seen devices before with flapping wings instead of propellers, but mainly as toys or prototypes,” said Hardarson.
While other developers have also created bird-like prototypes, such as Festo’s SmartBird, Hardarson says the Silent Flyer is different.
“Our unique wing design makes the device fly like a bird while the drone operator has real-time control of the wings for steering the device.”
The Silent Flyer consists of the body with wings, and the head, which has space for a camera and can be moved up, down, and sideways.
Perfect for incognito surveillance missions, we can’t help but be reminded of the spying jabberjays of book and movie sensation Hunger Games fame.
Hardarson can see the drone being used for crowd monitoring. “In any scenario where you do surveillance on a large group of people, at a concert or a soccer game, you can now do it without being detected,” he said. “In addition, the Silent Flyer can stay airborne longer than regular propeller drones because the wings make it more energy efficient.”
For incursive military purposes, the Silent Flyer’s uncanny similarity to a real bird will come in handy, says Hardarson. “The drone is so bird-like that radars cannot tell it apart from real birds. Naturally, that is a crucial factor for military use,” he told Business Insider.
With a price of €70-80,000 ($80,000-92,000), it may only be government and military customers he will attract.
But this is still cheap, with the similar (and nowhere near as bird-like) Raven UAV costing twice as much.
The Icelandic startup expects to start pilot sales in 2019 and have a fully developed product by 2020. So far, Flygildi has received funding from the Icelandic Technology Development Fund, and Reykjavik University, and is currently seeking additional funding.