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“BionicANTs” And “eMotion Butterflies” Bridge The Gap Between Robots and Nature

German tech firm Festo unveils a series of animal-inspired autonomous robots able to swarm, fly, and more.

image via YouTube screen capture

A swarm of robotic insects may seem like the stuff of cheesy 1950’s b-horror, but watching these very real, very cool “bionicANTs” in action is not so much scream-inducing as it is awe-inspiring, both for the sheer robotic mastery needed to create such complex machines, and for the degree to which they mimic their organic counterparts.

Festo, the German company behind the bionicANTs, unveiled the mechanized formicidae as part of their Bionic Learning Network, an initiative which looks to nature for innovative ways to advance the fields of automated electronics and robotics. As the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Spectrum publication points out, the Bionic Learning Network has rolled out a number of eye-opening mechanimals in the past, including a realistic, hopping robotic kangaroo. This year Festo showcased three new animal-inspired mechanical masterpieces.

Joining the bionicANTS are these ultra-light, ultra-thin “eMotion Butterflies,” capable of flying en masse without colliding with one another, reportedly able to cover nearly two-and-a-half meters per second.

Rounding out the trio is the “FlexShapeGripper,” which mimics the unique adaptability of a chameleon’s tongue in order to pick up, grasp, and manipulate objects of nearly any shape and design. While at first glance the gripper may not have the same degree of holistic animal inspiration as the bionicANTs and eMotion Butterflies, it is possibly the most immediately applicable, in terms of industrial use.

Cool as all three ‘bots are, don’t expect to see them for sale anytime soon. As Spectrum reiterates, these designs are simply to showcase advancements, and explore possible future uses for the robotics industry as a whole.

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