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Introducing the BionicOpter: automation inspired by nature

02 May 2013

Each year, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network provides new and imaginative inspiration for followers of automation technology – and this year is no different.

Festo's BionicOpter
Festo's BionicOpter

The emerging fields include research in the areas of function integration, lightweight construction, self-configuration and machine learning. With its new “BionicOpter” Festo shows how principles from nature can be applied in automation technology. 

Following the deciphering of bird flight with the SmartBird in 2010, Festo’s developers took on their next-biggest challenge in the Bionic Learning Network: modelling the dragonfly at a technical level. The BionicOpter is an ultralight flying object. Just like its model in nature, the BionicOpter can fly in all directions and execute the most complicated flight manoeuvres. 

The BionicOpter’s ability to move each of its wings independently enables it to slow down and turn abruptly, to accelerate swiftly and even to fly backwards. This means that for the first time there is a model that can master all the flight conditions of a helicopter, plane and even a glider. Despite its complexity, the highly integrated system can be operated easily and intuitively via a smartphone.

This unique way of flying is made possible by lightweight construction and the integration of functions: components such as sensors, actuators and mechanical components as well as open- and closed-loop control systems are installed in a very tight space and adapted to one another. 

The flapping frequency, amplitude and angle of incidence are controlled by software and electronics; the pilot just has to steer the dragonfly – there is no need to coordinate the complex motion sequences. 

The principles of ultra-lightweight construction are applied throughout the flying object. With a wingspan of 63 cm and a body length of 44 cm, the model dragonfly weighs just 175 grams.

The wings consist of a carbon-fibre frame and a thin foil covering. The intelligent kinematics correct any vibrations during flight and ensure flight stability. In order to stabilise the flying object, data on the position and the twisting of the wings is continuously recorded and evaluated in real time during the flight of the dragonfly.

As a global manufacturer of pneumatic and electric automation technology, Festo’s core business is helping to shape the production and working environments of the future and offering its customers innovative solutions for the production systems of tomorrow and beyond. 

“This is essential for our long-term reputation as a competent partner with a high level of problem-solving skills,” emphasises Dr Heinrich Frontzek, head of corporate communication and future concepts. “What we need to do is simplify the challenges involved in production sequences and guarantee intuitive control of machines and plants. The current projects from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network provide visionary approaches on how to do this.” 

For more information about Festo’s BionicOpter and to see animations, click here.

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