Flying robots are commonplace these days, from military drones to tiny helicopters that dance in the air, but none of them can flap their wings and then perch on a person's hand - until now.
At the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, professor Soon-Jo Chung and postdoctoral researcher Aditya A. Paranjape designed a birdlike airplane that lands with precision.
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Most aircraft (and robots) either fly like a helicopter or like a plane. Airplanes land the way they do because they need to lose lift, which they do by slowing down, but if they slow down too much they just drop out of the air and crash.
Birds are different. To land a bird will glide toward a landing point and then pull up steeply. At the same time the bird's decelerating, it's also climbing rapidly. Unlike airplanes, birds don't have vertical tails, so they have to use their wings to stabilize themselves.
A plane that can fly like a bird, land in a specific place, and launch itself again would offer the precision of a helicopter and the endurance of a fixed-wing craft. (Helicopters can't stay in the air as long as winged aircraft because they use a lot more power when flying).