The latest TED talk feels a few years ahead of its time. Featuring Markus Fischer, the head of corporate design for German tech company Festo, the video shows what appears to be a sort of stiff seagull flying around the conference hall, swooping down on audience members and eliciting endless ooo's and ahh's. It's kind of like those bald eagle shows at theme parks except for one glaring difference. Festo's bird is actually a lightweight robot.
Fischer's invention is called the SmartBird, and it's modelled after the herring gull. SmartBird is the centerpiece of a broader project to build technology that mimics nature. Futuristically named the Bionic Learning Network, the project is a collaboration between Festo and universities that's so far built six different robotic animals. For the most part, Fischer says, the arduous process of mimicking nature in robotics helps him and other designers think up ways to build lighter weight, more elegant machines. Once built, the animals themselves are sort of just for show.
"There are no explicit plans for the SmartBird," said Fischer in an interview. "We don’t want to produce a swarm of SmartBirds, if that’s what you think. But we’re trying to copy the knowledge on topics like energy efficiency and lightweight construction to other products from Festo and those of our customers."