Always on course – even without pilots

Article of 26 February 2021 

BionicSwift

The BionicSwifts move in a coordinated and autonomous manner within a defined airspace and maintain their flight path even in the face of suddenly changing environmental influences such as wind or thermals. Thanks to a radio-based indoor GPS with ultra-wideband (UWB) technology, these five artificial swallows from Festo cannot be blown off course – which also results in new ideas for intralogistics.

They weigh just 42 grams with a body length of 44.5 centimetres and a wingspan of 68 centimetres. The BionicSwifts from Festo are modelled on their biological counterpart – the swallow – and have plumage that is very similar to that of the actual bird, with wings made of ultra-light, flexible but highly robust foam slats that lie on top of each other like shingles.

Intelligently navigating the airspace using GPS technology

The body of the artificial swallows contains the necessary electronics to communicate with an indoor radio-based GPS system. With the help of UWB technology, the robotic birds can fly in a coordinated and safe manner. For this purpose, several radio modules are installed in one room. These anchors locate each other and define the controlled airspace.

In addition, each robot bird is equipped with a radio marker that sends signals to the anchors. This allows them to locate the exact position of the bird and send the collected data to a central master computer that acts as a navigation system.

The communication between the master computer, radio module and flying object enables the artificial swallows to navigate autonomously and intelligently.
The communication between the master computer, radio module and flying object enables the artificial swallows to navigate autonomously and intelligently.

Always on the right flight path, despite environmental influences

The master computer can be used for route planning, so that pre-programmed routes dictate the birds’ flight paths. If the BionicSwifts deviate from their flight path due to a sudden change in environmental influences such as wind or thermals, the swallows intervene autonomously and immediately correct their course themselves – without any human pilot at all.

Communication by radio makes it possible to detect their exact position through obstacles, even if visual contact is occasionally lost. The use of UWB as a radio technology helps to ensure their safe and trouble-free operation.

Even in a swarm, the BionicSwifts can position themselves precisely and fly in a coordinated manner.
Even in a swarm, the BionicSwifts can position themselves precisely and fly in a coordinated manner.

3D navigation system for the connected factory of the future

Intelligently connecting the flying object and the GPS route creates a 3D navigation system of the kind that could be used in the connected factory of the future. The precise localisation of material and goods flows can be used, for example, to improve process sequences and anticipate bottlenecks. In addition, autonomous flying robots could be used to transport materials, for example, and thus use their flight corridors to optimise the use of space within a factory.