Meet the robotic bird that's ready to put drone tech into the natural world

© Flygildi
By Jack Colman
We meet Flygildi, the Icelandic company who have created a groundbreaking drone that blends perfectly into the natural world.
We love drones. The idea of sending a high-quality camera into the sky to capture footage for our movies is something we can all get on board with, but there's still a slight issue: they're ugly. As hard as companies try, drones stick out in the sky like a giraffe in the Arctic. In a bid to integrate technology into the natural world, Icelandic company Flygildi think they've found a solution however.
When trying to make something look at home in the sky, we can think of few things better than to make it look like a bird. This was also the thinking of Icelandic duo Dr. Leifur Þór Leifsson and Hjalti Hardarson, who put their ingenuity into practice when founding Flygildi in 2012. We spoke to Hardarson to find out more about the birth of their Silent Flyer.
"It started with Gavia, an autonomous underwater drone designed as a research tool for marine biologists, and a mine-detection device," explains Hardarson. "However, it could only be used if accompanied by a boat out at sea. We then decided it would be good to have a device that didn't need a crew out at sea, and the Silent Flyer was born."
We could easily spend this whole article waxing lyrical about the Silent Flyer's appearance, not words you'd commonly hear about a drone, but we'll give you a brief introduction into what exactly it is.
Put simply, the Silent Flyer is a silent UAV that monitors unique mechanics to move in an authentic bird-like way. The drone is fully autonomous and can fly at 55kph, and at heights of up to 300m. The robotic bird can hold a camera in its beak, and can fly for up to 40 minutes when flapping constantly. Should its glide features be used – like a real bird – then its flytime increases significantly.
All of this sounds great, but how do you make a piece of robotic kit fly in the poetic, graceful manner of a bird? Hardarson has the answers. "The Silent Flyer uses flapping flight for lift and propulsion, and the wings can move in the same way as on real birds, with a total of 11 degrees of freedom (DOFs)," he explains. "It can be disguised as a local bird by modifying the shape and colour of the feathers and wings. The feathers are 3D-printed in plastic, and therefore they can be modified easily."
In other words, the Silent Flyer can be personalised to replicate the bird of your choice, so if you fancy pinching some chips from unsuspecting seaside victims, it's best to dress it as a seagull. With a total wingspan of 1.2m, it’s certainly not a drone to mess with, and you wouldn't even hear it coming, as the motors used to power the flapping motion are practically silent (below 70dB noise emission).
The Silent Flyer robotic bird drone being measured by its developers, Flygildi.
The Silent Flyer has a wingspan of 1.2m
Away from a coastal prank, the Silent Flyer has a significant role to play in the surveillance sector. The opportunity to deploy a silent drone, especially for scientific and environmental research, is unprecedented when compared to previous options. This drone is unobtrusive and authentic, making it the perfect device to enter natural habitats and collect data and photography.
Whilst the Silent Flyer already sounds like the complete drone package, Flygildi's ambitions are only just taking off. "We will gradually increase the flying performance, using artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques, so that the Silent Flyer will be able to operate in more demanding weather conditions and turbulent wind," Hardarson states. "It will also be waterproof, as we one day intend that it will be able to dive and replicate the Gavia by collecting data underwater."
A drone that can fly and dive is the epitome of the 'sky's the limit' mentality that we so often see in modern technological innovation. If that wasn't enough, the Silent Flyer is made of completely recyclable materials, and hopes to able to power-up through solar cell charging by 2021. If eco-friendly, autonomous, authentic nature drones are soon to be soaring the skies, we're ready to grab our binoculars and go robo bird-watching.