Festo's insect-inspired robots act like the real things

German automation company Festo is known for taking cues from nature when designing robots. This time, it has revealed futuristic-looking bionic ants, realistic robotic butterflies and a silicone gripper based on chameleons' tongue. Just like real ants, the 3D-printed BionicANTs can cooperate in small groups to move bigger objects, though they're much, much larger at 5.3 inches in length. They have cameras on their heads, optical sensors on their bellies that enable infrared navigation, and antennae that function as wireless chargers. Those circuits running outside their bodies are functional, by the way, and not just a design to make them look cool.

The eMotionButterflies, on the other hand, are robotic Lepidopterans that can fly pre-programmed routes inside spaces mounted with infrared cameras that serve as their GPS system. Similar to BionicANTs, they have infrared sensors to avoid bumping into one another. They're also equipped with motors, along with other components, that allow them to flap their wings like real ones do. These robobutterflies have 20-inch wingspans and can fly for 2.5 meters per second for three to four minutes before they need to be recharged for the next 15.

Finally, the FlexShapeGripper (a joint project with the University of Oslo) is a silicone cap attached to a robotic arm that mimics the movements of a chameleon's tongue. That cap acts as a suction that picks up objects, even flat ones like cards and phones. Festo will showcase all three machines at the Hannover Messe trade show in Germany next month, though those who can't be there can just watch these videos to see them in action. If you're wondering, Festo's older nature-inspired projects include a robotic kangaroo, dragonfly, bird, elephant trunk and a fat, blimp-like penguin.