Revolutionary bionic innovations in Cape Town

For the first time in South Africa, two revolutionary bionic innovations were on display in Cape Town; the Festo SmartBird and BionicOpter. These were sponsored by Festo Germany for the 19th World Congress of the International Federation of Automatic Control (IFAC) taking place at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

These innovations form part of the Bionic Learning Network, led by Festo, to take inspiration from nature and create engineered replicas. Dr Heinrich Frontzek, Head of Corporate Communication, from Festo AG & Co. KG was in Cape Town to present at the IFAC congress on the reasoning behind the Bionic Learning Network.

“The goal of the network is to motivate, inspire and to kick-start innovation,” explains Frontzek. Through his presentation Frontzek demonstrated how using nature as inspiration leads them to more sustainable automation solutions and ways to make it more people-friendly. “Animals have efficient designs for energy and exchange information on where to find food for the advantage of all” says Frontzek, “we try to replicate that with automation for the benefit of all.” The network consists of Festo specialists, universities, students and inventors.

Dr Frontzek showed the strides made through various bionic innovations from the Bionic Learning Network, including the two on display at the Congress. With the SmartBird, Festo has managed to replicate the wing motion of a Herring Gull in a robotic form, showing the possibilities for energy efficiency through automated robotics. Taking this initial breakthrough further, in 2013 the Bionic Learning Network presented the BionicOpter, another flying robot based on the dragonfly. Each wing moves independently, allowing it to slow down, accelerate quickly, make sharp turns and fly backwards. The BionicOpter’s motion has been automated to the point that it can be controlled via a smartphone app.

Not only are the innovations producing products for industry and inspiration for new developments, the materials used in their production, are similarly at the forefront of technology. Laser sintering was used to generate the prototypes as you can generate a new prototype easily and test it. Furthermore, the polyamide material is very lightweight.

“From these bionics, we learn new approaches for automation. More functions integrated into smaller spaces and components are getting smarter,” concludes Frontzek.

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