Bionic creepy crawlies in the factory of the future?

Rise of the robotic ants
Rise of the robotic ants   

Bionic ants and robot butterflies may sound surreal, but they are part of the vision one German firm has for the factories of the future.

The tiny, 5.4-inch long ants are intended to carry items and work autonomously with other factory ants, mimicking the cooperative behaviour of the insects in their natural environment, said Heinrich Frontzek, the vice-president for corporate communication and future concepts at German automation firm Festo.

"We have been looking at how the factory of the future might be run, and we have focused on bionics, with nature as our inspiration," Frontzek told CNBC on Monday at Germany's Hannover Messe, the world's biggest industrial and technology fair. A focus for the conference is the use of robotics in manufacturing.

Festo

Festo also showcased its "eMotion Butterflies" that can fly pre-programmed routes inside an area mounted with infrared cameras that serve as a GPS system. The infrared sensors on these robot butterflies help them avoid bumping into each other. They even flap their wings like their real-life counterparts.

The robot ants and butterflies are still in the early stages of development.

"We are still getting a feeling of how they could work and operate in the factory of the future," said Frontzek.

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