April 11 - German engineering company, Festo has unveiled its latest robotic creation, a mechanical dragonfly called the BionicOpter. Like a real dragonfly, the BionicOpter can hover in mid-air and glide without beating its wings, an achievement Festo says takes aerial robotics to new heights. Rob Muir has more.
Designed to mimic a dragonfly, the BionicOpter is a model of aerial sophistication.. German engineering company Festo has developed a reputation for adapting animal mechanics to robotic systems, just to prove that it's possible, although Festo designer Elias Kunbben say the dragonfly presented engineers with significant challenges. (SOUNDBITE) ELIAS KNUBBEN, ONE OF THE DRAGONFLY ROBOT DESIGNERS FROM FESTO AG & CO. KG, SAYING: "The major challenge with the dragonfly is that it has so many flight characteristics. It flies like a helicopter but also like a normal plane, and can even sail. It can also stay in the one spot and fly in all directions which of course is very difficult, a major challenge and we rose to it." Like a real dragonfly, all four of the BionicOpter's wings can move independently in different directions and at different speeds. Each wing is designed to adapt to changes of direction and thrust intensity, giving the robot the ability to move in any direction. The flapping frequency, and wing angle are all controlled and coordinated by inbuilt software and electronics, and the structure is light, yet robust enough to survive the impact of a crash. SOUNDBITE) ELIAS KNUBBEN, ONE OF THE DRAGONFLY ROBOT DESIGNERS FROM FESTO AG & CO. KG, SAYING: "The flapping frequency is much higher with a real dragonfly and always depends on the size of the object. The bigger it is, the slower it is, and the higher the frequency is, the easier it is to regulate and stabilise. Mechanically-speaking it is very demanding because these powers must all be put into the system in a controlled way without it breaking and that really was a major part of the challenge." But Knubben says, it must also be user friendly, so its inter-dependent flying systems are automated and work in concert... so with a hand-held console, all the pilot has to do, is steer.