Apr 7, 2018 | By David

We’ve seen many examples of 3D printing technology used to mimic various things from the natural world, particularly the unique movements and other aspects of animal behaviour. The most recent breakthrough is from a German electronics company, which has 3D printed a robotic replica of the flying fox, the bat that is native to parts of Asia and Australasia.  Made from 3D printed components as well as elastane fabric, the fully-functional BionicFlyingFox can soar through the air in a similar way to Mother Nature’s creation.

(source: Festo)

Festo manufactures a broad range of electronics equipment, and has been experimenting with aerodynamics in robotics design, particularly based on the natural world. The BionicFlyingFox project was a result of this research, and 3D printing technology enabled its structure to be modelled very closely after the sleek aerodynamic body of the world’s largest bat.

The real animal flies by flapping its wings to propel its body, using its fingers tucked under its wings to help direct its flight path. The membrane of its wings is a very important part of the flight, being made of a fine lightweight elastic substance that provides many of the same features as feathers do to birds.

(source: Festo)

In the artificial prototype by Festo, the engineers made use of carbon rods to create the bionic fox’s body, as well as various 3D printed components to help it move in an effective way. To replicate the skin of the bat’s wings, they made use of the wafer-thin elastane fabric. Elastane is typically used in garments like underwear and skinny fit jeans, due to its high flexibility.

The finished BionicFlyingFox has a wingspan of more than 7 feet (228 cm) and is almost 3 feet long (87 cm) but it is relatively lightweight, weighing just 580 grams. It has around 45,000 welding points, reflecting the level of attention to detail involved in getting the design right, and the extraordinary complexity of many natural creations such as the Flying Fox, technically known as Pteropus. The machine can complete a predetermined flight path, with a human operator required only for take-off and landing, making use of an infrared camera.

According to a spokesperson from Festo, “So that the BionicFlyingFox is able to move semi-autonomously in a defined space, it communicates with a motion-tracking system. The installation constantly records its position. A person performs the start and landing manually. The autopilot takes over in flight.”

(source: Festo)

Video footage of the BionicFlyingFox in motion is impressive. It is capable of hanging upside down swooping in a spectacular dive and gliding gently to the ground without colliding or being disrupted at all by its environment. It’s an example of how the improved design potential and relatively cheap materials and processes involved with 3D printing technology can really allow engineers to get creative, as well as showing the variety of nature and the potential offered by increasing robotics accessibility.

Festo have created various other impressive replicas of natural creatures, embracing the engineering challenges and design possibilities presented by all kinds of different organic structures. Past success include a replica butterfly, a smart dragonfly robot, and a bionic jumping kangaroo, as well as the AirPenguin, which is not modelled quite as faithfully after its natural counterpart.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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