It is a peek into the future, factories being operated by a multitude of tiny machines working together as a swarm, instead of humans. These are specialized robots which are fashioned as robotic ants and butterflies.
The German engineering firm Festo is a name to reckon with in the Robotic field and supplies automation products to factories around the world. Festo has created a swarm of ants and butterflies to showcase their research. The company partners major universities and runs its Bionic Learning Network program which is tasked with creating machines which mimic animals with an eye on developing useful technology which has scope for commercial applications.
These delicate and lightweight butterflies have wings which can be flapped with the aid of a small motor and can fly in a group by observing each other’s behavior. The butterflies are tracked by a central computer with the aid of ten cameras and it controls all the movements of the robotic butterflies. The butterflies have a wing span of 50 cm and each unit weighs 32 g. It can fly for four minutes on its own battery power.
The second creation by Festo was the swarms of ants which can work in unison and accomplish tasks and move objects which are too heavy to be moved by any one machine. Every Robotic Ant is 13.5cm long and carries a video camera in its head. Its legs are made of a flexible ceramic which twitches using piezo technology to make the machine walk. The ants can recharge themselves by resting their antennae against a power source.
Festo in a statement said “Like their natural role models, the BionicANTs work together under clear rules. They communicate with each other and coordinate their actions and movements among each other. The artificial ants thus demonstrate how autonomous individual components can solve a complex task together working as an overall networked system.”
Earlier projects in Bionic Learning Network program included robotic penguins and kangaroos.