Inspired by the legs and feet of a peregrine falcon, engineers at Stanford University’s Cutkosky Lab have developed a set of SNAG (“stereotyped nature-inspired aerial grasper”) robotic legs that can perch on different sized branches and grasp objects in a manner similar to the bird of prey. They then attached those legs to a quadrocopter to help herald the robot apocalypse. Per Dr. Ian Malcom in Jurassic Park: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Truer words have never been spoken.
How do the legs work? According to a paper published on SNAG, “Each leg has its own motor for moving back and forth and another to handle grasping. Inspired by the way tendons route around the ankle in birds, a similar mechanism in the robot’s leg absorbs landing impact energy and passively converts it into grasping force. Once wrapped around a branch, SNAG’s ankles lock and an accelerometer on the right foot reports that the robot has landed and triggers a balancing algorithm to stabilize it.” Impressive! Even more impressive considering the entire process occurs in the blink of an eye, with the talons snapping closed around a branch in just 20 milliseconds. I’d hate to be that branch!
The researchers imagine their robotic bird legs being used in future search and rescue missions, as well as wildlife monitoring, although I suspect they’ll actually be used for something much more nefarious. So, if you were wondering how long it would be until a giant robotic eagle swoops down out of the sky to pick you up and use you to power the Matrix, the answer is probably sooner than you previously thought.