Mankind is decades away from taking to the skies in an Iron Man-like suit, but now that researchers at the University of Maryland have cracked the secret to building robot birds that can dive and swoop like the real thing, maybe those crazy human wing designs of yesteryear are worth trying again?

Research on what is now called the Robo Raven has been going on for eight years, and back in 2007 the creation had its first marginally successful test flights. But it was no where near as agile and deft as the real thing, so the research on the Robo Raven was shelved until last year when a radically new design was implemented, thanks to research students joining the project.

Each wing on the Robo Raven is powered and controlled by two independent actuators allowing it to move, flap, and even deform in a similar manner to an actual bird's wing. And it was this development, along with software breakthroughs that accurately recreated the motions of a wing, that lets the robot perform its impressive feats of flight. Of course those extra actuators and requisite batteries also added more weight, so the Robo Raven was put on a strict diet courtesy of custom 3D-printed and laser-cut polymer parts.

So its lightweight fuselage all but dashes our hopes for this technology leading to a set of human-sized wings letting us all fly. At least for the time being. As this research advances, let's just maintain hope that a Birdman-like reality is still in our future. [Pursuit of Unorthodox Ideas via Automaton]