The dream of flight fired the imagination of Leonard da Vinci in the early sixteenth century. In designing his famous flying machines, the painter, sculptor, architect, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist  — ah heck, let’s just call him a Renaissance man — closely studied the mechanics of birds in flight, noting the elegant ways in which they turn and glide. Centuries later the Wright Brothers got us off the ground, but never with equal grace. It has taken a long time, but finally engineers at the German company, Festo, have found a way to mechanically reproduce the beauty of birds in flight. They call their robot the SmartBird, and they showed it off last year at TED.

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