Benevolent robot kites will watch over us

The German engineering firm Festo has been in the news lately for its robotic arm based on the anatomy of the elephant’s trunk. The company, which manufactures actuators and controllers for industrial equipment, has a thriving robotics wing whose projects exude a distinctive, cool authority. A particularly evocative example is the company’s Cyber Kite—an autonomous kite-flying system that harvests energy from the play of its strings to fly a gossamer ram-jet wing, effectively in perpetuity.

The Cyber Kite isn’t quite autonomous yet. But the prospect of self-flying kite installations strikes me as evocative and enigmatic. Given enough efficiency, perhaps one day such systems will harvest wind energy—great flocks of kites tethered to building-tops, wheeling in the sky over shining cities. Or imagine future explorers finding these great wings soaring over remote promontories and mountaintops, where their bases spin and gleam like shrines or pilgrimage sites.

Other Festo projects include giant autonomously-flying silver penguins and air-jellyfish, an astonishing menagerie vaguely post-Singularity (I want to say postfuturist) in style. When I try to imagine an answer to Kevin Kelly’s question—What does technology want?—I think of Festo. Technology wants to be a flying silver penguin. Don’t we all?

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