Humans have been trying to perfect flight for centuries. Leonardo da Vinci sketched plans for the first human-powered, flapping-wing aircraft, known as an ornithopter, more than 500 years ago.
Still, it has proved difficult to achieve aerobatic motion in ornithopters because of the difficulty of steadying a set of flapping wings. Instead, many modern flying robots, including drones, are powered by propellers.
An international team of researchers built the lightweight robotic ornithopter, which has crisscrossed wings enabling it to perform aerobatic maneuvers using a newly developed elastic mechanism, which minimizes wobble. The mechanism replaced the rigid and unsteady crank rocker mechanism usually found in such devices.
In a paper published Wednesday in Science Robotics journal, researchers from universities in Singapore, Australia, China and Taiwan said the new design hails a more stable and nimble future of robotic flight, more akin to bats and insects than robots.
The robot can tumble through a 90-degree flip and recover to a stable glide, researchers said, as well as being able to hover in the air, brake between maneuvers and land softly.