As we were recently reminded by the New York Times, dragonflies are totally awesome. For one thing, they’re arguably the most effective hunters on the planet, snatching targets in midair with a success rate upwards of 95%. And they’re incredibly deft fliers, with four independently moving wings that let them hover in place, spin with ease, and fly at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour. Which is actually kind of scary, when you think about it. I can’t run 30 miles an hour.
So it’s a good thing that the dragonflies we encounter today are rarely bigger than a Reese’s peanut butter cup. At that scale, the mechanics are just fascinating. The dragonflies that existed 300 million years ago in the Carboniferous Period though–different story. They could have had wingspans as long as a human arm, which places them firmly in the realm of absolutely terrifying. And what would nature’s most exquisite flying machine look like at that size? Maybe something like this.
This is the BionicOpter, a remote control dragonfly created by Festo Corporation, a German company specializing in automation technologies. If that name sounds a little bit too much like an evil robotics company for comfort, well, yeah, I’m thinking the same thing.
Regardless, the BionicOpter is an amazing feat of engineering. Just like the insect that inspired it, the super-lightweight craft can hover, glide, and dart in any direction at any time. Here’s how it works, according to Festo:
In addition to control of the shared flapping frequency and twisting of the individual wings, each of the four wings also features an amplitude controller. The tilt of the wings determines the direction of thrust. Amplitude control allows the intensity of the thrust to be regulated. When combined, the remote-controlled dragonfly can assume almost any position in space.
I can’t even begin to imagine what the controller looks like for that sort of thing, but that’s gotta be pretty scary itself.
Festo’s reportedly launching the gizmo at the Hannover Messe technology tech show this week. Read more about the BionicOpter here.