Festo, a German multinational company which is inspired by engineering and deals in pneumatic and electrical drive, has constantly been in the headlines for their innovations in the robotic sphere. Over the years they have created robotic seagulls, jellyfish, dragonflies and a number of nature inspired automations that can swim, and fly, and even a kangaroo that can hop, like their real world counterparts. They have recently revealed their latest and most realistic marvel and it is taking the world by storm. They are agile, nimble and can even fly loops and tight turns: they are the BionicSwifts.
The Revolution – Flight
The company had already made a smart bird almost a decade ago, and followed it up with a flying bat. However, what makes the BionicSwift more impressive is how closely it mimics the biological bird in design and in flight – using artificial feathers.
In the video we can see the BionicSwift perform several lifelike routines, like when it dives out of flight and regains momentum as it approaches the ground. Apart from its unmatched ability to resemble natural flight, what makes it different to all prior models are its dimensions. When designing the birds, the company used lightweight structures and so, with a length of 44.5 centimetres and a wingspan of 68 cm, the bionic birds weigh just 42 grams. The lightness of the model enables low energy consumption and an increased agility.
Artificial Feathers – Design and Working
“To execute the flight manoeuvres as true to life as possible, the wings are modelled on the plumage of birds. The individual lamellae are made of an ultra-light, flexible but very robust foam and lie on top of each other like shingles. Connected to a carbon quill, they are attached to the actual hand and arm wings as in the natural model”, Festo wrote in the description.
They went on to explain how the technology works by saying, “During the wing upstroke, the individual lamellae fan out so that air can flow through the wing. This means that the birds need less force to pull the wing up. During the down stroke, the lamellae close up so that the birds can generate more power to fly. Due to this close-to-nature replica of the wings, the BionicSwifts have a better flight profile than previous wing-beating drives.”
Flying Together – How?
Another astonishing feature of the BionicSwifts is coordinated flying, where the birds are able to fly together as a swarm using radio based indoor GPS along with ultra wideband technology (UWB). For this, each bird is equipped with a radio marker and several indoor radio anchors are installed in the controlled airspace. These markers and anchors cooperate amongst themselves according to the pre-written programs on the central computer, enabling them in safe and synchronised flying.
The use of radio technology enable exact location identification even if visibility is compromised by obstacles and the use of UWB as the technology ensures safe and guarantees trouble free operation. This feature, therefore, can be used for route planning by providing pre-programmed routes to the birds for their flight paths. The smart programming also enabled the birds to register any unforeseen changes in the flight environment and accordingly, correct and update their flight plans without any human interference.
The invention of artificial lifelike feathers would lead to further engineering innovations and make the robotic industry more sophisticated, narrowing the gap between the biological and the engineering beings. The networking of the flying objects, GPS routing and the ability to intelligently self-optimise their paths gives life to a 3D navigation system which could be put to several uses in the future. One such places could be factories, where the immense amount of overhead spaces, which currently go unutilised would be put to use, thereby increasing efficiency. All in all, the BionicSwift is one of those marvels which make us aware of just how fast technology is progressing. Essentially, it is screaming out loud that the future is here.