2020/07/01
ID: 3525

Swift lessons in lightweight design: the new bionic concept from Festo

What can nature teach us about lightweight structures, adaptive control and collaborative working? The “BionicSwift”, the latest bionic concept from Festo, demonstrates what is possible within robotics.

Lightweight structures are at the heart of the artificial robot bird because in both engineering and in nature, less material, less weight and least energy consumed makes for a successful design. The BionicSwift weighs just 42g despite a body length of 44.5cm and a wingspan of 68cm. This makes it extremely agile and capable of flying loops and making tight turns. Thanks to radio-based indoor GPS with ultra-wideband technology (UWB) the BionicSwifts fly safely and coordinate within a defined airspace. To make the flight manoeuvres as life-like as possible, the wings are modelled on the plumage of real birds. The agility of the artificial birds is not just due to their lightweight design and aerodynamic kinematics, but also to the use of function integration.

The intelligent networking of flying objects and GPS routing used in the BionicSwift demonstrates a 3D navigation system that could be used in the networked factory of the future. By precisely locating the flow of materials and goods, process workflows can be improved, and bottlenecks predicted. Autonomous flying robots are already being trialled as a way of optimising material movements.

Aerodynamic feathers and flying by GPS

Replicating natural flight as closely as possible, the wings of the BionicSwifts are modelled on bird feathers. The individual feathers are made from an ultra-lightweight, flexible but very robust foam, and overlap each other. Connected to a carbon quill they fan out during the wing upstroke, allowing air to flow through. They close during the downstroke to provide a more powerful, efficient flight than previous beating wing drives with fixed surfaces.

Function integration in the design incorporates the flapping mechanism, wireless communication, control components for the wing and tail elevator, the motors, gears and battery. All are installed in the smallest of spaces. Through the intelligent interaction of the motors and mechanical systems, the various manoeuvres are precisely coordinated.

Several radio modules form anchors that define the controlled airspace. Each bird is equipped with a transmitter sending signals to the bases, which locate the bird’s exact position and send it to a master computer navigation system. Pre-programmed flight paths can be planned for the birds. If the birds deviate from this flight path, for example due to a sudden gust, they immediately autonomously correct. The use of UWB radio technology guarantees safe and interference-free operation.

Commenting on their latest flying robot, Steve Sands of Festo says: ‟Festo use the natural world as a creative spur for sustainable innovation: studying natural phenomena and applying the principles to engineering challenges. The results are demonstrated as display models, which we call Bionic Concepts. Why do it? Because it stimulates creativity: not only within the Festo development process but also through crowd-sourcing ideas from a diverse external audience. The Bionic Concepts bring together people who are interested in similar key trend topics such as lightweight structures, machine learning and artificial intelligence.“

About Festo 
Festo is a leading international supplier of automation technology with a turnover in 2022 of around €3.81 billion. Festo employs over 20,800 people worldwide and is a proven innovator and problem solver in pneumatic and electrical automation, where it is the performance leader. Festo offers around 30,000 pneumatic and electric products in hundreds of thousands of variants for factory and process automation technology, many of which can be tailored to specific customer needs.  Sustainability, reducing its CO2, footprint, digital learning, innovation, performance and speed are the key drivers for the company's future. Festo GB operates as a carbon neutral organisation and uses the PAS 2060 standard externally audited by NQA to validate this claim to customers, employees and other stakeholders.

Festo Industrial Automation's innovative strength is demonstrated through the launch of around 100 new products every year. The company invests over 7% of its turnover in R&D, resulting in over 2,600 patents held worldwide. For more information about the company's products and UK / Irish services, please visit: www.festo.com/gb  and www.festo.com/ie

Festo and Industry 4.0 - Festo has engaged with the Industry 4.0 initiative from its inception: as a user, manufacturer and trainer.  As a member of the steering group, the company has taken an active role in defining the core standards such as the RAMI model and the Administration Shell.  Festo Didactic has installed Industry 4.0 Cyber-Physical Factory training hardware systems in many leading universities and training centres. It also provides Industry 4.0 training courses for change managers and practical workshops for employees. Industry 4.0 technologies such as OPC-UA communications are embedded in the latest generation products. For more information, go to www.festo.com/digitalisation
 
Festo Didactic training delivers training for industry – by industry. Combining Festo's industrial heritage with its future-focused manufacturing and engineering expertise to deliver courses for greater productivity and competitiveness. Offering a wide range of open courses, structured development programmes and tailor-made, customer-specific projects on technology and Industry 4.0. In 2021 Festo launched the industry-leading online training suite, Festo LX. Festo also provides state-of-the-art training equipment solutions for industrial companies and educational institutions around the world. Festo Didactic has around 56,000 education customers worldwide. More information on Festo training and consulting services can be found at: www.festo.com/didactic

Festo Bionic Learning Network encapsulates the innovative nature of Festo, raising awareness and attracting talent to the company. Exploring the links between nature and technology opens new areas of innovation and demonstrates complex ideas in a stimulating and enjoyable way. Festo works with an alliance of internal R&D, external educational establishments and specialist companies to advance bionic solutions for automation applications of the future. The objective is to benefit from bionics as a source of inspiration and to realise these in industrial automation. For more information about Festo's Bionic Learning Network, please visit: www.festo.com/bionics
 

© Festo SE & Co. KG
BionicSwift_new_1
The intelligent networking of flight objects and GPS routing makes a 3D navigation system that could be used in the networked factory of the future.
© Festo SE & Co. KG
BionicSwift_new_2
The BionicSwift weighs just 42 grams despite having a body length of 44.5 centimetres and a wingspan of 68 centimetres. This makes it extremely agile, nimble and capable of flying loops and making tight turns.
© Festo SE & Co. KG
BionicSwift_new_4
The creation of the BionicSwift represents the next chapter for Festo in the development of bionic flying objects. As in its biological model, the use of lightweight structures is at the heart of the artificial bird. Because in both engineering...
© Festo SE & Co. KG
BionicSwift_new_5
The wings are modelled on the plumage of real birds. This gives the BionicSwift a better flight profile than previous beating wing drives.  

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