A German company better known for automating industrial processes has created a new way to fly. Festo’s BionicOpter takes its flight-engineering cues not from helicopter rotors or plane engines, but the four, sideways-flapping wings of the dragonfly.
The four wings actually rotate around, from horizontal to vertical, and can change the angle at which they beat. According to Festo, that enables it to smoothly switch from flying forward to hovering to flying backwards.
That might seem difficult to control, but Festo says otherwise: "Despite its complexity, the highly integrated system can be operated easily and intuitively via a smartphone."
The dragonfly is only the most recent in a long line of animals to get Festo’s robotic treatment, as part of its Bionic Learning Network. Past projects include the SmartBird, the AquaJelly, and, yes, the AirPenguin.