About a year ago, Festo, a company whose nature-inspired robots are as impressive as Boston Dynamics’ creations, blew our minds with a robotic flying bird that used feather wings to perform agile airborne maneuvers. It was a prototype back then, but later this year, the company will start selling a kit that allows anyone to build their own.
BionicSwift, as the flying robobird is officially known, is actually an update to an older Festo flying bot from about nine years ago. Back then, a robotic seagull used wings that could flap and bend to not only propel itself through the air, but also to perform rudimentary mid-flight maneuvers, while its trajectory could be adjusted by changing the angle of its tail. BionicSwift, by comparison, was smaller, lighter, and had wings made of individually adjustable feathers.
Feathers are critical to energy-efficient flight, forming a solid wing on the downstroke to generate lift, but spreading to increase airflow so the upstroke faces less wind resistance. They’re also important for agile flight, as a bird can change its wings’ aerodynamic properties to perform quick dives or seemingly turn on a dime in mid-air. It’s why BionicSwift looks so realistic in flight, and why the robot might soon be a sought-after RC toy.
Festo hasn’t released exact details on when its Bionic Swift Experimental Set will be available aside from a vague promise of “end of 2021,” and the company hasn’t released pricing details yet either. What is known is that the kit will be released under its Bionics4Education initiative and will include a pre-assembled fuselage (the bird’s body where the electronics, battery, and motors are housed) while the wings and tail need to be built from hand with carbon rods and foam feathers using an included template. The kit will also come with a wireless remote so the completed robobird can be taken for a controlled flight.
It looks like a lot of fun, but we’re also going to keep hoping that Festo eventually releases a DIY version of its terrifying spiderbot that transforms into a rolling wheel for high-speed chases. If you’re going to scare the hell out of your neighborhood, robot spiders are the way to go.