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BionicANTs Show off Festo’s Robotics Prowess

Festo's BionicANTs use piezo technology to walk. (Photo credit: Festo.)
Each BionicANT has a gripper on the front of its head. By working with other BionicANTs, they can move items around their pen. (Photo credit: Festo.)

A new swarm of robots created by Festo aims to combine autonomous behavior and teamwork, using cutting-edge engineering processes.

The BionicANTs use radio signals to communicate with each other, so that they can carry objects together. From a programming perspective, Festo’s multi-agent system is interesting because there’s no designated leader or followers. According to Festo, “all the BionicANTs contribute to the process of finding a solution together by means of distributed intelligence.”

A 3D stereo camera lets the bot identify objects of interest and self-localize, while an optical sensor records the distance it has traveled. Two rechargeable LiPo batteries keep the bugs running for 40 minutes at a time, while they take tiny steps around an enclosed pen. The pen has exposed wires that run along its permieter, so that any ant approaching the boundaries of the pen can power-up by bumping the feelers on its head into the wires.

The legs of the ants are powered using tiny, robust piezo elements that can move with precision. “Three trimorphic piezo-ceramic bending transducers, which serve both as an actuator and a design element, are therefore fitted into each thigh,” writes Festo. “By deflecting the top bending transducer, the ant lifts its leg. With the pair underneath, each leg can be exactly deflected forwards and backwards.”

The ants are made of polyamide powder, which was melted layer by layer with a laser in an additive manufacturing technique called Selective Laser Sintering. Instead of having a separate circuit board within the robot, conductive tracks can be found on the surface of the ant’s body. This 3D-moulded interconnect approach eases assembly and eliminates cables.