Tedrake & team devise robotic flight that lands bird-like, implications for aviation

July 21, 2010

As reported by the MIT News Office, July 21, EECS professor Russ Tedrake working with postdoctoral associate Rick Cory and researchers at the Laboratory for Information and Decision Systems (LIDS), has announced the development of a perching glider that lands like a bird.

Cory and Tedrake first developed a trajectory model assuming ideal launch and landing conditions and taking advantage of a phenomenon known as 'stall' -- dreaded by current airliners, but naturally used by birds in landing. Knowing the ideal trajectory was not going to be successful in real-time situations, Tedrake and Cory consulted with researchers at LIDS to develop and apply a set of error-correction controls that could nudge the glider back onto its trajectory when location sensors determined that it had deviated from it. The LIDS techniques allowed Tedrake and Cory to precisely calculate the degree of deviation that the controls could compensate for.

This work could become useful for unmanned flight. Tedrake noted to the MIT News Office, that "computer processors powerful enough to handle his and Cory's control algorithms are only a few years off." In the meantime, his lab has already begun to address the problem of moving the glider's location sensors onboard.

In recognition of this work, Rick Cory was named the 2010 Boeing Engineering Student of the Year receiving the award at the Farnborough Airshow in Hampshire, England, yesterday. "To rise to the top in this global competition is a great tribute to Rick Cory's innovative thinking, technical knowledge and future promise as an engineer," said John Tracy, Boeing chief technology officer and senior vice president of Engineering, Operations & Technology. "We commend him on his research and congratulate him on this honor."

Read more:

MIT News Office, July 21, 2010 article by Larry Hardesty: "A plane that lands like a bird. An innovative control system allows a foam glider to touch down on a perch or a wire like a pet parakeet."

Robot Locomotion Group: The Perching Glider website