Safe aerial acrobatics as a swarm 

They are agile, nimble and can even fly loops and tight turns: the BionicSwifts. The five artificial swallows can move in a coordinated and autonomous manner in a defined airspace by interacting with a radio-based indoor GPS.


Ultralight flying objects based on natural models

When designing the robotic birds, the focus was on the use of lightweight structures, just like their biological role model. Because the same applies in engineering as it does in nature: the less weight there is to move, the lower the use of materials and energy consumption. And so, with a body length of 44.5 centimetres and a wingspan of 68 centimetres, the bionic birds weigh just 42 grams.

Aerodynamic plumage for efficient flight

To execute the flight manoeuvres as true to life as possible, the wings are modelled on the plumage of birds. The individual lamellae are made of an ultralight, flexible but very robust foam and lie on top of each other like shingles. Connected to a carbon quill, they are attached to the actual hand and arm wings as in the natural model.

During the wing upstroke, the individual lamellae fan out so that air can flow through the wing. This means that the birds need less force to pull the wing up. During the downstroke, the lamellae close up so that the birds can generate more power to fly. Due to this close-to-nature replica of the wings, the BionicSwifts have a better flight profile than previous wing-beating drives.


Functional integration in the tightest of spaces

The bird’s body contains the compact construction for the wing-flapping mechanism, the communication technology, the control components for wing flapping and the elevator, the tail. A brushless motor, two servomotors, the battery, the gearbox as well as various circuit boards for radio, control and localisation are all installed in a very small space.

The intelligent interaction of motors and mechanics allows, for example, the frequency of the wing beat and the elevator’s angle of attack to be precisely adjusted for the various manoeuvres.

  • Koordiniertes Fliegen: Formationsflug im abgesteckten Luftraum

    Coordinated flying: flying in formation in a confined airspace

  • Künstliches Gefieder: schindelartige Anordnung der einzelnen Lamellen

    Artificial plumage: shingle-like arrangement of the individual lamellae

  • Geräuscharmer Flügelschlag: Lamellen aus Leichtschaum

    Quiet wing beat: lamellae made of light foam

  • Agiles Flugobjekt: wendige Manöver wie Loopings und enge Kurven

    Agile flying object: agile manoeuvres such as loops and tight turns

  • Intelligentes Navigieren: Leitrechner, Funkmodul und Flugobjekte im Zusammenspiel

    Intelligent navigation: master computer, radio module and flying objects interact with each other

  • Aerodynamische Kinematik: Torsionsfähigkeit der Flügel

    Aerodynamic kinematics: torsional capacity of the wings

Coordination of flight manoeuvres by GPS

Radio-based indoor GPS with ultra wideband technology (UWB) enables the coordinated and safe flying of the BionicSwifts. For this purpose, several radio modules are installed in one room. These anchors then locate each other and define the controlled airspace. Each robotic bird is also equipped with a radio marker. This sends signals to the anchors, which can then locate the exact position of the bird and send the collected data to a central master computer which acts as a navigation system.

This can be used for route planning, so that preprogrammed routes give the birds their flight path. If the birds deviate from their flight path due to sudden changes in environmental influences such as wind or thermals, they immediately correct their flight path themselves and intervene autonomously in this situation – without a human pilot. Radio communication enables exact position detection even if visual contact is partially hindered by obstacles. The use of UWB as radio technology guarantees safe and trouble-free operation.

New impetus for intralogistics

The intelligent networking of flight objects and GPS routing makes for a 3D navigation system that could be used in the networked factory of the future. The precise localisation of the flow of materials and goods could, for example, improve process sequences and foresee bottlenecks. Moreover, autonomous flying robots could be used to transport materials, for instance, and thus optimise the use of space within a factory with their flight corridors.