Swarms of 3-D Printed Robot Insects Could One Day Replace Human Workforce

…they have succeeded in programming a swarm of a 1, 024 small robots, they call Kilobots, to self-assemble.

Bionic ants and butterflies, and chameleon-mimicking gripping robot will be presented next month at Hannover Messe, industrial technology fair, the largest of its kind in the world.

We all know that ants represent a workforce unprecedented in nature, capable of transporting loads hundreds of times heavier than themselves. In fact, a study published last year in the Journal of Biomechanics found that the neck joint of a common American field ant is capable of withstanding pressures up to 5, 000 times their own body weight.

Before we get to the stage when we could produce molecular assemblers (if ever) and artificial nanorobots, the best tool in our toolbox would be colonies of networked robo-insects, like Bionic ANTs ( Autonomous Networking Technologies) developed by Festo, German factory and process automation company and their Bionic Learning Network.

Last August, a team of researchers at Harvard University has made a first step towards that goal. Investigating collective artificial intelligence, they have succeeded in programming a swarm of a 1, 024 small robots, they call Kilobots, to self-assemble.

Now, future-oriented engineers from the Festo company have developed a similar concept, a nature-inspired machine, based on a model of a real ant, but much bigger, approximately the size of a human hand. The bodies of these artificial creatures are produced by 3D printing and driven by piezo bending transducers, which operate on little energy. 8.4V lithium battery provides these ANTs with 40 minutes of autonomy, and they can be recharged by docking their antennas against a charging station. They are also equipped with floor sensors and 3D cameras for localization and detection of objects, can communicate with each other via RF link, and coordinate their actions thanks to complex control algorithms.

These ants are capable of making their own decisions and working autonomously, or in case they require maneuvering large objects, they can organize and, through cooperative work, produce collective force that could someday be sufficient to replace humans in some less complex tasks.

Apart from their excellence in what they do, Festo became world-famous for their previous creations of robotic penguins, and kangaroos. And now, in addition to bionic ants, at this year’s Hannover Messe they will present to the world some ultralight bionic butterflies, called e-Motion Butterflies, tiny semi-autonomous drones, controlled by the intelligent network system, as well as, the FlexShapeGripper, a robot capable of controlled gathering of various objects in a way chameleon does when catches insects with his tongue.