At first I was like, this BionicFlyingFox looks more like a BionicFlyingBat to me, what is this, an April Fool's joke? Then I took the time to read about Festo's take on a semi-autonomous drone, and saw that some bats - the largest bats - are commonly called flying foxes. Or fruit bats, which I have heard before. And also megabats, which I hadn't heard, but would suggest that Festo incorporate into a future version of their innovative design. BionicFlyingFox sounds cool and all, but BionicMegaBat? That's got superhero franchise written all over it.
In creating their UFO (ultra-lightweight flying object) Festo chose to model it after the only mammals that can fly because they were fascinated by the megabats' fine elastic wingspan, a membrane that extends from the metacarpal and finger bones to the foot joints. The BionicFlyingFox has similar webbing, made of 2 airtight films and a knitted elastane fabric, and a 7-1/2' wingspan. But it weighs just 20 ounces. It is also able to use its wings in a way similar to its biological model, with kinematics divided into primaries and secondaries, a low area loading, and all articulation points on one plane, so the BionicFlyingFox can fold its wings together individually. Due to the fabric's honeycomb structure, the BFF can also absorb minor cracks and damage without crashing or needing to land.
Onboard electronics for the BionicFlyingFox further its impressive nature. They're integrated with an external motion-tracking system to enable the drone to fly semi-autonomously in a defined space. A human needs to launch and land the Fox manually, but once in flight, it's all autopilot, with the motion-tracker constantly recording its position, planning the flight path, and submitting commands.
The ground and onboard systems also partner to assist with machine learning of the ideal flight path. The motion-tracking system uses a pair of infrared cameras mounted on a pan-tilt unit for precise localization, and the images from these cameras are fed to a central master computer. The computer evaluates the data and coordinates the flight path externally, like an air traffic controller.
When it receives flight instructions, the BionicFlyingFox's onboard tech is able to interpret them to determine the best wing movements for completing the path.
To read more about the BionicFlyingFox and its potential applications, check out the video above, or head over to the Festo website.