German robotics firm Festo has designed a high-tech bionic ant to demonstrate how nanorobotics can mimic the networked, collective behaviour of insects in the natural world.
Festo hopes the BionicANTs (ANT stands for Autonomous Networking Technologies) will help pave the way for the use of mini robots as industrial workers.
The bionic ants are inspired by swarm intelligence: they work together under set rules, communicating with each other via a radio module on the abdomen and co-ordinating their movements.
Swarm-based nanorobots could be used to move heavy loads, assemble structures or perform large-scale clean-up operations. Swarm intelligence is increasingly being deployed in nanorobotics to create intelligence through collective ability. See Insects in Design for more.
Piezoelectricity is used to power the ants' pincers and leg movements (take a look at Electricity-Generating Sneakers for more applications of piezoelectric technology). The bionic ants are battery-powered and can operate for 40 minutes between each charge.
Festo also unveiled a robotic butterfly as part of the firm's Bionic Learning Network, which takes inspiration from natural systems to design new tools for industrial practice. The ultra-lightweight eMotionButterflies highlight how the miniaturisation of hardware such as batteries enables true-to-nature flying behaviour.
Festo says its creations illustrate the role decentralised systems of intelligence can play in the flexible, transformable factory of the future. For more on future production, see SXSWi 2014: Future of Making and The Future Is Here: A New Industrial Revolution.