Insects are a natural place to look for deeper understandings of autonomous learning and behavior. At the level of individuals, intelligence is tiny, a small handful of simple rules: if this, do this; if that, do that. And so forth. It's only through cooperation does the ant landscape develop into something capable of organization and complex tasks.
The point of Festo's newest additions to its "Bionic Learning Network" is to demonstrate this process in action, as basic robo-ants begin to cooperate on bigger and bigger projects (mostly moving stuff around, but still). "For the BionicANTs, Festo has not only technically implemented the delicate anatomy of ants, but also their cooperative behaviour," the automation firm boasts on its website.
According to an IEEE post, the ants are mostly 3D laser-printed and they sport stereo camera systems and their little antennae even act as battery charges when pressed against a charged rail, like bug subway trains. An infrared sensor located on the undersides of their torsos allow the ants to navigate according to markings on the floor.
The butterflies are intended to demonstrate a different sort of cooperation, which is to simply travel along preprogrammed routes without crashing into each other. Each one sports, "two servo motors to independently actuate the wings, an IMU, accelerometer, gyro, and compass, along with two tiny 90-mAh lithium-polymer batteries." And the result is probably the prettiest drone (or autonomous drone) in the air.