Thanks to the rise of consumer drones, remote-controlled aircraft have experienced something of a resurgence. Festo's new BionicOpter admittedly skirts the line between the two. While the device does not fly autonomously, the dragonfly-shaped aircraft runs on four flexible, independent wings.
Modeled on a real dragonfly (one of nature's most efficient hoverers), the BionicOpter has a small head, a long tail, and a large spherical body with four iridescent wings. Each appendage can twist, turn and reposition itself independent of the other three. The wings can even adopt vertical positions. Size aside, the BionicOpter is pretty close to the real insect.
In practical terms, this allows the aircraft to do a number of unusual things. In addition to simple vertical or horizontal flight, the BionicOpter can make hairpin turns in three dimensions. Users can also control the speed of its flight, make it hover in place, fly in reverse, or even glide just over the ground without catching on anything.
Instead of a traditional remote control, users pilot the BionicOpter with a smartphone app. They need not control each wing individually: One processor coordinates nine different motors to configure the wings for a correct flight path. [See also: 10 Animal-Inspired Robots ]
The BioicOpter's most noticeable downside is that Festo has no current plans to sell the device. Festo, a corporate-level German engineering company, designed the device as a research project to study the dynamics of efficient, artificial flight. Model aircraft enthusiasts looking to take the machine out for a spin, or do-it-yourself drone builders who want to outfit the machine to run on its own, are out of luck.
Even so, as long as there's one dragonfly aircraft out there, more are sure to follow. A consumer-level toy may still be years away, but dragonflies have been around for approximately 300 million years. They, and products based on them, are not going away anytime soon.
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