Harmony in flight: Robot bees achieve collision-free swarming

Festo BionicBee Flying Robot
Festo's BionicBee excels in autonomous flying and ensures collision-free swarming through computer-controlled precision. Images courtesy Festo

At the forefront of automation and bionic technology, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network has introduced its latest invention, the BionicBee. This autonomous flying robot, revealed at the Hannover Messe 2024, is not only the smallest in Festo’s lineup but also marks their first foray into capable swarming technology.

Festo is renowned for its annual showcases at Hannover Messe, the world’s leading industrial technology trade show, where it presents cutting-edge developments in automation. This year was no exception, as Festo demonstrated the BionicBee, a robot inspired by the intricate flight patterns and physical design of bees.

The BionicBee measures 220 mm (8.6 inches) in length and has a wingspan of 240 mm (9.5 inches), weighing approximately 34 g (1.2 oz). Despite its small size, the BionicBee is designed to operate within controlled environments, particularly within Festo’s laboratories. This is facilitated by ultra-wideband anchors that cover two levels of a room, allowing the robots to precisely locate themselves and navigate their surroundings effectively.

One of the most innovative aspects of the BionicBee is its ability to engage in swarming behavior without the risk of collisions. This is managed through a central computer that meticulously calculates and commands the flight paths for each robot, ensuring a harmonious and synchronized flying pattern.

Festo BionicBee Flying Robot 4-DOF
Servos housed in the compact frame adjust the wing angles to manage lift and steer the flight path.

The development of the BionicBee utilized generative design principles. This approach involves a software application that optimizes the structural design for minimal material use while maximizing stability and reducing weight. The compact structure of the BionicBee accommodates a brushless motor, three servos, a battery, communication technology, and control components. These elements work together to enable the robot’s wings to beat at a frequency of 15 to 20 hertz and pivot over a 180-degree angle. Additionally, the servos adjust the wing geometry to manage lift and direction.

Festo BionicBee Flying Robot Dimensions Frequency
The BionicBee, measuring 220 mm in length and 240 mm in wingspan, navigates precisely using ultra-wideband anchors.

Attention to detail is critical in the assembly of each BionicBee, as even minor discrepancies can significantly affect performance. To address this, Festo has integrated an auto-calibration feature that detects and adjusts for any slight variances in the robots’ hardware during initial test flights. This ensures that each unit performs identically to others, crucial for the precise control needed in swarm flights.

The launch of the BionicBee’s swarm flight capability was a highlight of the Hannover Messe 2024, showcasing Festo’s continued innovation and leadership in the field of robotic automation inspired by nature. With each BionicBee carefully hand-assembled and equipped with advanced technology for stable and safe flight, Festo continues to push the boundaries of what is possible in bionic and robotic engineering.

Festo BionicBee Flying Robot Central Computer Flight Path
A central computer meticulously calculates the swarm flight paths of the BionicBee, ensuring precise and collision-free coordination.

Source: Festo