Festo bionic robots: spiders and octopuses in the factories of the future?
The Festo booth at the US Trade Show 2014
Industrial robotics has made tremendous progress in the half century of its existence. But the most perfect hands, legs, and wings are not yet invented by humans, but by nature. And if so, then instead of creating robots from scratch, is it not worth it to just copy animals?
The most famous manufacturer of bionic robots (that is, those that imitate nature) is the company Festo. In general, she earns supplies of electronics, including self-developed servo drives. But since 2006 there has been a separate direction in the creation of bio-robots.
Festo's bionic designs are part of the Bionic Learning Network consortium. It includes 12 institutes and universities, including the University of Stuttgart, the Technical University of Berlin and the Delft University of Technology, as well as large companies: Effekt-Technik GmbH, JNTec GbR, Sachs Engineering and others. But the main development team is Festo engineers, designers and biologists.
The company states that they create bio-bots for factories. Several viable examples already exist. But these are not the biorobots that Festo has become famous for. Therefore, the main question is: does the company really develop business solutions, or is it just PR?
Let's start with good examples.
1. Elephant and baby elephant
The invention of nature, which interested Festo engineers among the first, is the elephant's trunk: a manipulator that can work with objects of different weights and shapes, without damaging even very fragile ones, and has many degrees of flexibility. The development of Festo with the same characteristics was called the Bionic Handling Assistant . This is a super-flexible robiruka with soft "fingers" that securely and gently hold objects; its first prototype appeared in 2010.
The device partly copies the trunk externally: the covering of the flexible part of an elephant consists of skin folds, and that of a Bionic Handling Assistant, of corrugated polymer. Trunk kinematics fully preserved: three segments and a flexible end grip.
The manipulator is used in collaborative robots, the projects and concepts of which are offered by Festo. One of them -Robotino . This small robot moves cargo weighing up to 1.06 kg. In the design of Robotino used a mini-version of the Bionic Handling Assistant.
Festo offers a full-size “bionic trunk” for use in enterprises, in collaborative production robots: this is a safe manipulator that allows people and machines to interact directly and literally transfer parts and tools “from hand to hand”.
2. Tentacle with suckers
Another industrial manipulator from Festo, OctopusGripper , is great for carrying smooth rounded parts. It is copied from an octopus and is an elastic tentacle with vacuum suckers. Tentacle, suction cups and the main body of the manipulator are made of soft silicone.
The concept was developed in 2017, and now the company is testing the OctopusGripper on two pneumatic light robots of its own design - BionicMotionRobot and BionicCobot. Plus, the “artificial tentacle” is in flexibility: it does not need to be individually tuned to each type of captured objects, it can manipulate cylindrical and round objects of different diameters.
BionicCobot c OctopusGripper
Looking at the OctopusGripper, it is clear that the engineers deliberately attached it a property with an octopus tentacle, although a different form might have given it greater opportunities.
3. Chameleon language
More versatile manipulator - FlexShapeGripper , created in 2015. At its end is an elastic silicone cap that covers the subject and holds it. Under the pressure of the air from the inside, the cap expands and releases the "prey". The size and shape of the subject can be any.
This mechanism engineers "spied on" a chameleon, which captures with its tongue insects of various shapes. But here the imitation of nature turned out to be minimal: from the lizard here, only the shape of the cap, which resembles its language, and the principle of holding the object by it. The rest of the FlexShapeGripper looks like a normal industrial manipulator, albeit with a strange capture device.
The potential application of the FlexShapeGripper is manufacturing plants: it can move small and medium parts on assembly and packaging lines.
4. Robot Spider
Volumetric cocoons, which can build spiders and some species of caterpillars, became the prototype for 3D Cocooner . This is a device that creates mesh forms of polymer resin. The raw material is melted with the help of ultraviolet light, passes through the nozzles and forms a solid framework of a given shape. The first prototype was released in 2016; as Festo engineers suggest, in the future, technology can be improved and used for 3D printing of furniture.
3D Cocooner does not resemble a spider or a caterpillar, and only uses the same technology.
And now about the fayla
As part of the Bionic Learning Network, Festo is positioning itself as a concept developer, but not a manufacturer. The company is ready to sell its ideas to partners who will develop serial equipment based on them. As stated on the official website, “Festo supports its customers from the very beginning in the development of their products and accompanies them from market analysis to functional modeling”.
However, among the developments of Festo there are quite a few devices of dubious practical use. These are flying penguins, jellyfish floating in the air, controlled balloons with helium, a robot - a flying fox, a robot gull, a kangaroo robot. It is difficult to imagine them in industrial production, they cannot carry cargo and are suitable only for observing from the air. According to the authors of the concepts, these robots were created to test servo drives, study aerodynamics, and control groups of flying objects. But the popularity of commercials with mechanical beasts tells us that this is to a large extent a PR move.
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