Up to this point, it is safe to say that nature is the best engineer. Granted things like our bodies have their inefficiencies, the numbers are far more stellar than
that of a car. This is why the Bionic Learning Network was
created. The network spawns from collaboration between
Festo, several universities, technology institutes, and development companies. The organization stands by the philosophy
that principles from nature are the best inspiration for technical applications and industrial practice.
When it comes to the realm of gripping, moving, controlling, and measuring, nature performs
seamlessly. The network utilizes nature’s intuitive
technique to not only inspire, but outright steal design
concepts from the wild. Festo refers to this practice as
the Biomechatronic Footprint. The company develops, tests,
and improves mechatronic products, processes, and technologies using bionics in the Bionic Learning Network. The
Biomechatronic Footprint documents the evolution from a natural model to a basic technical principle, followed by bionic
adaptation and ending with industrial application. Besides the
BionicOpter, some of the network’s other projects include:
keep the weight low also had to be chosen. The wings consist of a
carbon-fiber frame and a thin foil covering; the main structure is
made of flexible polyamide and terpolymer. This allows the entire
system to be flexible and ultra-light, but still sturdy. With a wingspan of 63 cm and a body length of 44 cm, the BionicOpter weighs
a mere 175 grams.
Despite its complexity, the highly integrated system can be oper-
ated easily and intuitively via smartphone. Dr. Frontzek explains
that “the flapping frequency, amplitude, and installation angle are
controlled by software and electronics; the pilot just has to steer the
dragonfly – there is no need to coordinate the complex motion
sequences.” Further, the intelligent kinematics correct any
vibrations during flight, and data on the position and
twisting of the wings is continuously recorded and
evaluated in order to maintain stability.
Various parts of the BionicOpter were manufactured through the process known as selective laser sintering (SLS), which uses a laser to
sinter powder based materials together, layer-by-layer, to form a solid model. SLS consists of
a laser, part chamber, and control system.
As a global manufacturer of pneumatic and electric
automation technology, Festo focuses on shaping the pro-
duction and working environments of the future. Dr. Frontzek and
the engineers at Festo see the technologies used in the BionicOpter
being applied in the fields of human-machine-interaction, light-
weight design, and functional integration.
Dr. Frontzek explains, “With the BionicOpter, Festo is illustrating
how aspects of integrating functions and miniaturization can be
realized. The remote-controlled dragonfly also demonstrates real-
time wireless communication, the continuous exchange of informa-
tion, and the combination of different sensor evaluations, as well
as the identification of complex events and critical states.”
Festo has spent many years developing and supporting proj-
ects and test models that have basic technical principles that are
derived from nature with their work at the Bionic Learning Network
(see sidebar). Although many of these designs directly resemble
the animals (or insects) from which they were inspired, the applica-
bility of their technologies in the real world is apparent.
WaveHandling – A conveyor belt that transports objects in a
targeted manner and sorts them by utilizing natural wave-like
motion. It consists of numerous bellows modules can be connected as required and are self-configuring.
LearningGripper – Like an abstract form of the human
hand, the four fingers of the gripper are driven by twelve
pneumatic bellows actuators with low-level pressurization.
Thanks to the machine learning process, the gripper is able to
teach itself to carry out complex actions such as the targeted
gripping and positioning of an object.
Robotino XT – A mobile bionic hand assistant that can not
only manoeuvre in cramped spaces, but with twelve degrees
of freedom in all, can move flexibly, and can extend its adaptive gripper with high precision.