3D prints robotic ants and butterflies


Three BionicANTs working together as one mimicking ant behaviour. Source: Festo

Festo 3D Prints Robotic Ants and Butterflies

Festo is an industry leader in advanced robotics and they have presented two of their projects: BionicANTs and eMotionButterfiles only made possible by using laser sintering 3D printing and 3D MID ( Molded Interconnect Device) technology. 3D MID is a control and power system where electrical circuits are attached on the surface of the laser sintered body components during the construction, and they thereby take on design and electrical functions at the same time. In this way, all the technical components can be fitted into or on the 3D printed body and be exactly coordinated with each other for complex actions of a insectoid robot.


BionicANTS are biomimetic robots that modeled to resemble real ants in anatomy and behaviour. ANT stands for Autonomous Networking Technologies, and they are designed as a sort of small prototype of future applications  the factory floor, where the production systems will be founded on adaptable and intelligent components able to work under a higher overall control hierarchy. Their body as well as software mimic natural behaviour of group of ants working together. Each BionicANT measures 13.5 cm (5.3 in) and runs on two 7.2 V batteries charged when the antennae touch metal bars running along the sides of an enclosure.

Three BionicANTs working together as one mimicking ant behaviour. Source: Festo

Official brochure notes:

“After being put into operation, an external control system is no longer required. It is possible, however, to monitor all the parameters wirelessly and to make a regulating intervention. The BionicANTs also come very close to their natural role model in terms of design and constructional layout. Even the mouth instrument used for gripping objects is replicated in very accurate detail. The pincer movement is provided by two piezo-ceramic bending transducers, which are built into the jaw as actuators. If a voltage is applied to the tiny plates, they deflect and pass on the direction of movement mechanically to the gripping jaws. All actions are based on a distributed set of rules, which have been worked out in advance using mathematical modelling and simulations and are stored on every ant. The control strategy provides for a multi-agent system in which the participants are not hierarchically ordered. Instead, all the BionicANTs contribute to the process of finding a solution together by means of distributed intelligence. The information exchange between the ants required for this takes place via the radio module located in the torso. The ants use the 3D stereo camera in their head to identify the gripping object as well as for self-localisation purposes. With its help, each ant is able to contextualise itself in its environment using landmarks. The opto-electrical sensor in the abdomen uses the floor structure to tell how the ant is moving in relation to the ground. With both systems combined, each ant knows its position – even if its sight is temporarily impaired.”

With on-board batteries the ANT can work for 40 minutes.


Designed to mimic real butterflies, this small robots are ultralight and have coordinated flying behaviour in a collective. They are are able to autonomously avoid crashing into each other in real-time controlled by networked external guidance and monitoring system with 10 cameras, interior GPS and IR markers on their bodies. The entire system is very impressive combination of prcise guidance, raw processing power, optical tracking and delicate 3D printed flying robot design.

Technical specifications of entire system:

  • 10 infrared cameras
  • Frame rate: 160 images per second
  • Exposure time: 250 µs
  • 1 central master computer
  • Analysed pixels: 3.7 billion pixels per second
  • Flying object:
  • Wingspan: 50 cm
  • Weight: 32 g
  • Wing beat frequency: approx. 1–2 Hz
  • Flying speed: 1–2.5 m/s
  • Flying time: 3–4 min.
  • Recharging time: 15 min.
  • Integrated components: 1 ATxmega32E5 microcontroller , 1 ATmega328 microcontroller, 2 servo motors made by MARK STAR Servo-tech Co., Ltd. to activate the wings, 1 inertial sensor (inertial measurement unit, IMU) MPU-9150 with gyroscope, accelerometer and compass, 2 radio modules, 2 LiPo cells 7.4 V 90 mAh, 2 infrared LEDs as active markers

eMotionButterflies flying in formation Source: Festo

eMotionButterflies flying in formation Source: Festo

You can get more information about this wonderful looking 3D printed insectoids on Festo homepage:

I do not fear 3D printed robotic insects. They most likely come as friends. Most likely.



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