German automation company Festo has developed two new animal-inspired robots: butterflies and ants made with 3D printing techniques. Each year, Festo announces new animal-inspired robots; in previous years, the animals have included kangaroos, seagulls, dragonflies and floating air jellyfish.
The ants, called BionicANTs, are intended to demonstrate cooperative behavior based on a natural model. The BionicANTs follow sets of simple rules and can operate autonomously, while at the same time working together to complete large scale, complex tasks. The ants communicate among themselves to coordinate their actions and movements, and small groups of them can manipulate objects much larger than themselves by pushing and pulling together.
The ants are mostly made of polyamide, made with laser sintering 3D printing processes. The electronic circuits on the outside of their bodies are also 3D printed. Each ant is 5.3 inches long and weighs just a quarter of a pound.
They have a 3D stereo camera system in their heads, and their antennae actually work as battery-charging contacts when pressed against a powered rail. An optical sensor underneath the ants allows them to navigate using infrared markings on the floor, and their cameras can also localize based on landmarks.
Watch a video of the ants: