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Festo demonstrates BionicOpter dragonfly robot


March 31, 2013

The BionicOpter robot dragonfly is capable of maneuvering in all directions, hovering in mid-air and gliding without beating its wings

The BionicOpter robot dragonfly is capable of maneuvering in all directions, hovering in mid-air and gliding without beating its wings

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The dragonfly is quite the show off when it comes to flying. It can hover in mid-air, maneuver in all directions, and glide without so much as a beat of its wings. After succeeding in capturing the essence of a herring gull with the SmartBird, the folks over at German pneumatic and electric automation company Festo challenged themselves with the creation of a robotic addition to the dragonfly family – the BionicOpter.

Even the largest member of the Odonata clan (a damselfly named Megaloprepus caerulatus) is no match for Festo's dragonfly-inspired BionicOpter. Its 63 cm (24.8-inch) wingspan almost puts it in the same league as the long extinct Meganeura, though thankfully minus the latter's reported appetite for other insects and small amphibians. Each of its four wings has a carbon fiber frame covered by a polyester membrane, and can be twisted up to 90 degrees from the horizontal.

From tip to tail, the robot dragonfly measures 44 cm (17.3-inches) long. Its sturdy and lightweight housing and mechanical system are fashioned from aluminum, polyamide (sintered) and terpolymer (deep-drawn ABS), contributing to its overall weight of just 175 g (6 oz).

At the heart of the beast is an ARM microcontroller, which calculates all of the parameters relating to mechanical adjustment based on input from the onboard inertia, acceleration and position sensors, together with pilot input, then translates these into movement by actuating the servo motors.

The complex motion sequences (including flapping frequency of between 15 and 20 Hz, amplitude and installation angle) are handled by the model's software and electronics, leaving the operator only having to worry about the steering. The model is powered by two LiPo cells and can be remotely controlled using a smartphone or digital spectrum transmitter courtesy of the included 2.4 GHz wireless module.

Festo says that the BionicOpter doesn't need to tilt forward to smoothly transition from hovering to forward flight like, say, an RC helicopter does, and is capable of maneuvering up and down, forward and backward, and to the side.

By passing an electric current through the robot's four nitinol "muscles," the head can be moved from side to side, while the tail can go up and down. Indoor or outdoor flight stability is ensured by the real-time automatic correction of in-flight vibrations.

You can see the BionicOpter in action in the video below.

Source: Festo

About the Author
Paul Ridden While Paul is loath to reveal his age, he will admit to cutting his IT teeth on a TRS-80 (although he won't say which version). An obsessive fascination with computer technology blossomed from hobby into career before the desire for sunnier climes saw him wave a fond farewell to his native Blighty in favor of Bordeaux, France. He's now a dedicated newshound pursuing the latest bleeding edge tech for Gizmag. All articles by Paul Ridden

Very cool, but they got the flight pattern backwards. The rear wings beat first, not the front. You can see this clearly in this video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSCkxXByKxA

Zaron Gibson

I'm impressed. With commercial applications you're good to go.


pretty cool. One problem that stands out is how much the head and body are shaking. Imagine a camera on that thing (especially the head).

The whole thing looks like it is going to shake itself to pieces pretty quickly.

Joseph Boe

LEXX had it right all along, the future of flight is in giant insects! :)

Guillaume Levesque

@Zaron Gibson

I wonder if that is why it looks so clumsy compared to the real thing?


Very nice fly. In 70's people thought aliens were using vessels shaped insects... :)

Frédéric Gerber

Impressively shaky.

Bas Klein Bog

Look out! Shrinking this down a bit will be bad enough, but their next project is a closer to real-sized mosquito! Great - laying in the shade and (via radio link from the remote operator) you hear: "Get up and do some work!" "Aaww Mum!"

The Skud

What a disappointment. I thought Festo was known for its originality. Wasn't this already done in the US back in 2012. Georgia Tech's Dragonfly if I remember correctly... (Ed. http://www.gizmag.com/techject-dragonfly-microuav/24900/) whats so innovative about copying someone's tech and making it bigger to differentiate. Really Festo! I thought you were original with dolphins, seagulls and so on... wonder what other technologies they have or are copying from the US.. not expected from Festo and Not expected from the engineering giant... Germany!

You know I cool!

It looked a lot "simulated" to me.

Douglas Fairweather

TU Delft did something similar 6 years ago, albeit a slightly different design": http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cd41OAC2T8I They have made many iterations in the meantime

Andries Koopmans

Festo's R&D labs turn out the coolest stuff.

Tom Swift

Let's not forget the Tim Bird, a French product which has been on sale for decades. It is powered by a rubber band motor which you wind up with a handle on the tail, and it flies very effectively. It has a plastic body and polyester wings

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