BionicBees: autonomous swarm flying

25th April 2024
Paige West

With the BionicBee, the Bionic Learning Network has developed its first-ever object capable of flying autonomously and in large numbers as part of a swarm. The BionicBee is set to debut its inaugural flight show at Hannover Messe 2024.

Weighing just 34 grams, with a length of 220 millimetres and a wingspan of 240 millimetres, the BionicBee is the smallest flying object crafted by the network so far. This project marks the first use of generative design by the developers, where inputting minimal parameters into software allows the application of defined design principles to generate an optimal structure. This structure uses the least amount of material possible while maintaining maximum stability, which is crucial for excellent manoeuvrability and extended flight duration.

The BionicBees achieve autonomous swarm flying through an indoor locating system equipped with ultra-wideband (UWB) technology. The setup includes eight UWB anchors positioned across two levels within the space, enabling precise time measurements for accurate self-location by the bees. These anchors emit signals that the individual bees use to independently gauge distances and calculate their positions based on the time stamps received.

To navigate as a swarm, the bees follow trajectories determined by a central computer. Safe and collision-free flying in tight formations demands high levels of spatial and temporal precision. The planning also considers potential interactions like air turbulence or ‘downwash’ from nearby bees.

Given that each bee is handcrafted, slight variations in manufacturing can affect flight behaviours. Therefore, the bees are equipped with an automatic calibration feature. After a brief test flight, each bee adjusts its controller settings to optimise performance. This smart calibration allows for external control of the swarm, ensuring uniformity in behaviour despite individual differences.

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