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A flock of bionic birds and an autonomous robot arm are Festo’s latest creations

If you thought that robot dog creators Boston Dynamics had the market cornered when it comes to attention-grabbing, natural world-inspired robots, you clearly haven’t heard of Festo. For the past several years, Festo — a Germany-based multinational industrial control and automation company — has been moonlighting as the creator of some of the craziest robots around, from bionic flying foxes to robot jellyfish to robotic spiders that resemble a Star Wars battle droid.

This month it unleashed its two latest creations: BionicSwift, a flock of flying robot birds, and BionicMobileAssistant, a human arm-inspired robot gripper on wheels. And they’re both awesomely impressive in their own way.

Festo – BionicSwift

The BionicSwift is modeled on real birds, right down to the plumage, which is made of ultralight flexible foam lamellae that interlock like shingles. When the robot performs an upward wingstroke, the wing’s separate lamellae fan out to let air through. They then close while the bird performs a downstroke to generate more power. This versatility makes them more adept at replicating the wing-beating of real birds. The robots each weigh 42 grams, coordinate their movement via GPS, and have a pretty impressive flight time of around seven minutes.

Festo – BionicMobileAssistant

Meanwhile, the BionicMobileAssistant boasts some impressive abilities of its own. According to Festo, it’s able to “independently recognize objects, grasp them adaptively, and work on them together with humans.” Consisting of a mobile robot, electric robot arm, and BionicSoftHand 2.0 pneumatic gripper, the BionicMobileAssistant robot can be trained to carry out tasks like distinguishing between certain objects. That could conceivably make it a useful addition to future production lines and similar applications.

Unfortunately, as cool as both of these robots undoubtedly are, you’re unlikely to be able to get your hands on them any time soon. Speaking previously with Digital Trends, Dr. Elias Knubben, head of corporate bionic projects at Festo, likened the company’s tech demo robot experiments to “concept cars in the automotive industry.” In essence, they’re there to raise Festo’s profile, while giving it the opportunity to research things like energy efficiency and lightweight construction that can then be baked into future products for the company’s partners and industrial customers. Not that that should stop you enjoying them, though.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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