I've long been a fan of Festo's Bionic Learning Network with their impressive list of projects ranging from flying penguins to bionic grippers. Now the German industrial control and automation company has just released a video of an autonomous kite, intended to showcase Festo's mechatronic actuators and display the Festo logo in the skies. The project was conducted in cooperation with German company aeroix based in Berlin, which already helped Festo develop its insulated hot air balloon (video).
The design of the bionic wing is based on Festo's Stingray project. It combines a wing with a large volume to hold an aerostatic lifting gas with a good lift-to-drag ratio and high rigidity, which allows the wing to maintain its position even in the absence of wind.
The entire system is engineered to autonomously and intelligently cope with strong and turbulent wind conditions. For example, the servomotors used to control the kite periodically switch to generator mode to recover energy from the steering motion and any excess energy from the compliant guy-ropes is also redirected to batteries.
For more detailed information on the kite, including another great video and a photo slideshow, have a look at the aeroix website (in German). If you have not already done so, make sure to also check out Festo's robot penguins or listen to a recent Robots interview with Markus Fischer, the head of the Bionic Learning Network (full disclosure: I'm part of the Robots Podcast team).