Festo, a German engineering firm, recently introduced new robotic ants and butterflies, which will add to its already diversified kitty of animal robots. These robotic ants, also called BionicANTs have been designed to work together as a swarm. These ANTs have been produced as a part of the company’s Bionic Learning Network, which was started in order to link companies to universities, institutions, development companies and private investors, in order to seek and create solutions and new technologies.
The most fascinating aspect of BionicANTs is that they not only replicate an actual ant’s bodily features and characteristics, they also borrow from ants’ behavioral propensities. Interestingly, ANTs here is an abbreviation of Automated Networking Technologies and works on the basic ‘collective working’ ethic of an ant community.
Similar to actual ant groups, these BionicANTs also communicate with each other by using wireless signals. Several other collective behaviors observed in the ant community have been replicated using complex control algorithms embedded in these BionicANTs.
Festo wrote on their website:
“They communicate with each other and coordinate both their actions and movements. Each ant makes its decisions autonomously, but in doing so is always subordinate to the common objective and thereby plays its part towards solving the task in hand.”
Built using 3D printers, each such ANT unit has been designed very attractively. Sized at 13.5 centimeter lengths, their components are neatly put together using laser technology. Conductor structures and electrical circuits are made fully visible, thus imparting a serious industrial visual character to the ANTs.
Designed to work collectively, the ANTs are fully capable of taking autonomous decisions too; however, they have been programmed to always remain subordinate to the common overall objective that has been assigned to the group.
The ANTs’ abdomen comes fitted with a radio module that enables it to communicate with the other unit. The limbs are ceramic, while the piezoceramic bending transducers enable swift and precise movement of limbs. A 3D camera fitted in the ANTs’ head allows the unit to visually interpret its environment and chart its motion accordingly.
Festo noted on their website that “The pincer movement is provided by two piezo-ceramic bending transducers, which are built into the jaw as actuators. If a voltage is applied to the tiny plates, they deflect and pass on the direction of movement mechanically to the gripping jaws.” These BionicANTs will be largely used to quickly and collectively mop up large factory floors.