Bionics and Industrial Automation

Dec. 6, 2013
Festo continues its research into biomechatronics to influence efficiency, construction, integration, and operation of its industrial automation and engineering products.

Two years ago at Hannover Fair in Germany I caught my first glimpse of Festo’s ventures into biomechatronics. At the event, Festo introduced its automated herring gull (a seagull to those of here in the U.S.), which it referred to as the SmartBird. Essentially, the SmartBird is a light (less than 16 oz.) flying robot with a wingspan of more than 6 feet that can autonomously take off, fly, and land. Behind Festo’s development of the SmartBird is the company’s belief that learning more about efficiencies in natural motion can help deliver efficiencies in its automation technologies.

See the presentation from TEDGlobal 2011 in which Markus Fischer of Festo described the development and operation of the SmartBird.

At this year’s SPS/IPC/Drives show in Nuremberg, Germany (held the last week of November 2013), I saw Festo’s newest venture in biomechatronics—the BionicOpter. Inspired by the flight of the dragonfly, the BionicOpter can fly in all directions, hover in mid-air, and glide without beating its wings.

According to Festo, the BionicOpter features thirteen degrees of freedom through control of the shared flapping frequency and twisting of individual wings in addition to an amplitude controller on each of the four wings. Amplitude control allows the intensity of the thrust to be regulated. When combined with the tilt of the wings to affect the direction of thrust, the remote-controlled dragonfly can reportedly assume almost any position in space.

Inside the BionicOpter, components such as sensors, actuators and open- and closed-loop control systems are integrated to operate with the remote control for wireless real-time communication. This integration of systems is ultimately the main point of Festo’s BionicOpter—to demonstrate wireless real-time communication and the ability to combine different sensor evaluations to identify complex events and critical states.

R&D of this type underscores Festo’s concept of integrated automation based on its CPX automation platform. Dr. Ansgar Kriwet, a Festo management board member, noted at the SPS/IPC/Drives event that CPX is helping position Festo to take advantage of the Internet of Things as it develops because the CPX platform can integrate field device bus systems as well as industrial Ethernet. CPX is “well-equipped for the future … [where automation] installations will adapt automatically to product modifications,” he said. The CPX automation platform enables integration of Festo’s motion control, pneumatic components, measurement and control technology, and safety to all of its field devices for process and factory automation.

The video below shows the BionicOpter in action.

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