Dragonflies have been a popular choice for nature-inspired drones. First, we saw an amazingly-realistic version that the CIA developed over 40 years ago, but scrapped once they couldn't get the flying part perfected. Then, more recently we saw a drone developed by Georgia Tech that copied the dragonfly's four-wing design and was equipped with a suite of data collecting sensors.
The latest offering in robo-dragonflies, however, is the first that a) can be controlled with a smartphone and b) looks ready to be owned right now. The BionicOpter was created by robotics company Festo and like the Georgia Tech version is outfitted with sensors and wireless communication technology that allows it to continuously transmit data that it is collecting.
And in terms of agility, Festo says, "Just like its model in nature, this ultralight flying object can fly in all directions, hover in mid-air and glide without beating its wings."
Each of the four wings can flap and twist individually and the power of thrust for each wing can be adjusted, allowing it to take on complex maneuvers, but Festo says the drone is easily controlled by a smartphone because flapping frequency, amplitude and installation angle are controlled by software and electronics -- all the controller has to do is steer the dragonfly. The software determines the motion sequences based on the steering.
The only area where this drone falls behind is in size. It's much larger than a real dragonfly, which means it won't be taking on any stealth data missions, but it seems to be aimed at a different audience.
You can see the BionicOpter in action in the video below.