Festo, a German engineering firm, is developing a special breed of bionic ants that work together to clean up objects left on factory floors.
These ants have 3D-printed bodies and ceramic limbs that move thanks to piezoelectric materials that discharge minute electric charges. With each tiny zap of electricity, these tiny little critters will inch up your legs and arms with deft efficiency. I kid.
Their eyes are fitted with stereo cameras and they use their metal antennae to charge their two 7.2V batteries when touching electric rails. They also have an optical mouse sensor underneath their thorax for position tracking aided by “infrared markings on the floor.” They also have strips of circuits and electric conduits wired across and along the outside of their bodies.
No larger than the size of your hand, these bionic ants use wireless communication and cameras to navigate in concert when swarming unsuspecting humans as they sleep. They even have teeth-like grippers powered by piezoelectric actuators ready to chomp at your heels in case you get in the way.
These bionic ants have a total of 20 moving parts affectionately called “trimorphic piezo-ceramic bending transducers” that are highly durable and capable of rapid and efficient movements that require minimal space requirements.
These bionic ants are part of a larger biomimicry initiative
Part of their “Bionic Learning Network” program initiative, Festo offers annual announcements of their latest insectoid robots. This program seeks to develop technology and software that mimics the behavior and movements of real insects, including cooperative communication and interaction.
Festo also develops biologically-inspired flying robots, among the most fascinating being butterflies that can fly autonomously using independently controllable wings to guide themselves across any preprogrammed flight path.
According to IEEE Spectrum:
Each butterfly has a 50-centimeter wingspan and weighs just 32 grams, but carries along two servo motors to independently actuate the wings, an IMU, accelerometer, gyro, and compass, along with two tiny 90-mAh lithium-polymer batteries.
With a wing beat frequency of between 1 and 2 flaps per second, top speed is 2.5 m/s, with a flight time of 3 to 4 minutes before needing a 15 minute charge. The wings themselves use impossibly thin carbon rods for structure, and are covered with an even thinner elastic capacitor film.
Although none of these inventions are available to the public, Festo’s bionic ants and butterflies remain extraordinary examples of just how far engineers have come to “develop[ing]technical concepts and industrial applications based on models from nature.”