Nature Knows BestNature has already solved many of the problems we deal with every day!
Inspired by Nature
Bionics, or bio-inspired engineering, is based on the fact that nature has already solved many of the problems we deal with every day. The organisms and ecosystems we are surrounded by face many of the same challenges that we do. For example, they need to eat, stay warm, stay safe, stay hydrated, conserve energy, etc. And they must do this without harming their own environments.
Nature’s solutions were optimized over millions of years by evolution in terms of energy efficiency, lightweight construction, function integration, etc. Engineers all over the world learn from, and are inspired by, nature. This is demonstrated through the invention of incredible robots, energy-efficient cars and planes, and innovative materials.
Bionics involves learning from nature and taking inspiration from nature’s vast pool of intelligent solutions. It’s also about asking the right questions and looking to the right models in our environment. How would nature deal with keeping warm or cool? How would nature waterproof? How would nature pick up objects? Studying how nature has developed solutions for living organisms can be very effective in terms of solving today's engineering problems. Bionics serves as a link between biology and technology.
Since nature has the potential to provide inspiration for technology, we can look at bionics in two ways: a tool for increasing creativity or a tool for structured problem solving.
Whether it’s energy efficiency, lightweight construction, function integration, or the ability to learn and to communicate, throughout evolution nature has developed a wealth of optimization strategies for adapting to its environment, and these strategies can be applied to the world of engineering.
Nature shows us how to achieve maximum efficiency with minimum energy consumption in a wide variety of ways. Penguins, for example, have excellent natural insulation and can reduce the amount of energy they use thanks to their body shape, helping them to survive in the cold waters of the Antarctic.
Festo used the energy-efficiency possessed by penguins as its inspiration for the AquaPenguin (shown here) and the AirPenguin.
Lightweight construction and function integration
The laws of nature also apply to engineering: the less weight there is to move, the less energy is consumed. Migratory birds, which must fly long distances, have an extremely light skeleton. From a technical perspective, lightweight construction saves not only energy, but also resources, as less material is needed to produce the design. The ability of one element to perform several functions also reduces weight, energy consumption, and material costs.
Lightweight construction is a feature of many of Festo’s prototypes, including the Bionic Handling Assistant and the SmartBird, whose wing beat paves the way for the function integration of lift and propulsion.
Learning and communicating
One of the key optimization strategies that nature has developed as it has evolved is the ability of organisms to communicate with one another (e.g., enabling them to exchange information about food sources and their quality). Those who learn how to find the best food have an advantage when it comes to natural selection.
Like their natural role models, the BionicANTs work together under clear rules. 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.
Because we want to learn from nature, not copy it, our team from the Bionic Learning Network constantly asks, “What can nature teach us?”. Let’s take a look at what we have learned and how we applied this information.
One of the oldest dreams of mankind is to fly like a bird: to move freely through the air in all dimensions and to take a “bird’s-eye view” of the world from a distance. No less fascinating is bird flight itself. Birds achieve lift and remain airborne using only the muscle power of their wings, with which they generate the necessary thrust to overcome the air resistance and set their bodies in motion without any rotating “components”. Birds measure, control, and regulate their motion through the air continuously and autonomously in order to merely survive.
With SmartBird, Festo has succeeded in deciphering the flight of birds. This bionic bird, inspired by the herring gull, can start, fly, and land autonomously, with no additional drive mechanism. Its wings not only beat up and down, but also twist at specific angles. Festo has thus succeeded in realizing an energy-efficient technical adaptation of the natural model.
Butterflies are known for coming into the world as caterpillars and later emerging as colorful flying creatures. What is particularly striking about them are their large wings compared to their slim body. The wings are wafer-thin and consist of an elastic membrane, which gives the creatures their unique lightness and aerodynamics. With the eMotionButterflies, Festo has now technically implemented their extremely graceful and agile flight. So that the ultralight flying objects do not collide with each other, they are coordinated by an indoor GPS, which could also be used as a guidance and monitoring system in future production.
In order to replicate their natural role model as closely as possible, the artificial butterflies feature highly integrated on-board electronics. They are able to activate the wings individually with precision and thereby implement the fast movements. As the wings slightly overlap, an air gap is created between them when they beat, which gives the butterflies their special aerodynamics.
For the BionicANTs, Festo has not only taken the delicate anatomy of the natural ant as a role model. For the first time, the cooperative behavior of the creatures is also transferred to the world of technology using complex control algorithms. Like their natural role models, they communicate with each other and work together according to clear rules to solve a common task. The artificial ants thus demonstrate how autonomous individual components can solve a complex task together, working as an overall networked system.
Like their natural model, Festo’s AquaJellies glide elegantly and seemingly effortlessly through the water. This is ensured by their adaptive tentacles, which are controlled by an electric drive in their body. The integrated communication and sensor technology plus the real-time diagnostics enable coordinated, collective behavior of several jellyfish, even in a limited space.
Festo is visualizing ideas of how efficient systems in the field of water technology may look in the future.
With the BionicKangaroo, Festo has technologically reproduced the unique way a kangaroo moves. Like its natural model, the BionicKangaroo can recover, store, and retrieve the energy efficiently on the next jump. The technical implementation requires both sophisticated control technology and stable jump kinematics. The consistent lightweight construction and the intelligent combination of pneumatic and electric drives enable the unique jumping behavior. The system is controlled by gestures.
The BionicCobot is based on the human arm, but not only in terms of its anatomical construction. Like its biological role model, the pneumatic lightweight robot solves many of its tasks with the help of flexible and sensitive movements. Due to this flexibility, it can work directly and safely together with humans.
The Bionic Handling Assistant is an example of how structural flexibility and new control concepts, based (for example) on speech and image recognition, can help humans to interact simply (and above all, safely) with machinery in the factory environment of the future. In the event of a collision with the human operator, the system no longer presents a hazard and does not need to be carefully shielded from humans as in the case of conventional factory robots.
The chameleon is able to catch a variety of different insects by putting its tongue over the respective prey and securely enclosing it. The FlexShapeGripper uses this principle to grip the widest range of objects in a form-fitting manner. Using its elastic silicone cap, it can even pick up several objects in a single gripping process and put them down together, without the need for a manual conversion.
The Airacuda mimics a fish in terms of its function, structural design, and shape. Airacuda’s kinematical concept closely resembles the one deployed in its biological role model – propulsion is achieved through a mechanical fin drive.
All thanks to lightweight construction and function integration, Festo has technically mastered the highly complex flight characteristics of the dragonfly by creating the BionicOpter. Just like its model in nature, this ultralight flying object can fly in all directions, hover in mid-air, and glide without beating its wings.
Whether it is shorter lead times, faster product life cycles, or high flexibility with regard to quantities and variety, the requirements of production of the future are manifold and are changing faster than ever before. This industrial change requires a new way for humans, machines, and data to interact. Festo’s BionicWorkplace is a self-learning workplace for human-robot collaboration.
The flying fox belongs to the Chiroptera family – the only mammals that can actively fly. They are closely related to bats, but unlike bats that are guided by ultrasound, flying foxes are guided with the help of their big eyes. One distinct characteristic is their fine elastic flying membrane which consists of an epidermis and dermis and stretches from the extended metacarpal and finger bones down to the foot joints.
For the BionicFlyingFox, the focus, as with its biological model, is on lightweight construction. The same applies in engineering as it does in nature: the less weight there is to move, the lower the energy consumption. In addition, the lightweight design saves resources in the construction process.
The Moroccan flic-flac spider, discovered in the Erg Chebbi desert on the edge of the Sahara in 2008 by bionics engineer Professor Ingo Rechenberg, was the source of inspiration for the BionicWheelBot. The flic-flac spider can walk like other spiders. It can also propel itself into the air, however, with a combined sequence of somersaulting and rolling on the ground. It is ideally adapted to its surroundings: on even ground it is twice as fast in “rolling mode” than when walking. However, where it is uneven, it is faster walking normally. In the desert, where both types of terrain can be found, it is able to move safely and efficiently.
Like its biological model, the BionicWheelBot has eight legs, which help it to both walk and roll. In rolling mode, the BionicWheelBot does a somersault with its whole body, just like the real flic-flac spider.
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