I’ve written extensively in the past about how German-based Festo AG’s Bionic Learning Network has developed some stunning robots based on nature. From elephants to kangaroos and birds to jellyfish, it’s been a great process to watch. Today, the company finally unveiled what they’ll be showing off at next month’s Hannover Fair, and instead of the one creature that I was expecting—I was guessing a caterpillar—they unveiled three! Here’s a rundown on the trifecta.
• BionicANTs are highly integrated individual systems used for solving a common task. Festo says they employ cooperative behavior based on a natural model—demonstrating that individual units can interact with each other and be flexible. Each ant makes its decisions autonomously, but in doing so, it’s always subordinate to the common objective of the group. Heinrich Frontzek of Festo explained that each ant uses 18 actuators, piezo ceramic bending transducers that control the 6 legs and the grippers at the front of the head. This technology is very precise and rapid, as well as energy efficient and wear-resistant. A 3D stereo camera in their head identifies the gripping object and assists in self-localizing.
• FlexShapeGrippers are soft gripping actuators for a variety of tasks that were developed with inspiration from a chameleon’s tongue. These can pick up, gather and set down several objects with a wide range of shapes. They also feature energy-free holding. A water-filled silicone cap wraps around the items in a flexible, form-filling manner. A pneumatic holding and release mechanism is employed.
• eMotionButterflies look like the real thing in an unsettling way. These ultralight flying objects have collective behavior and are able to move about a three dimensional space without colliding with other bots. They are fully maneuverable and agile, with quite unique characteristics. On-board electronics allow the wings to be precisely activated and controlled. Indoor GPS is used in conjunction with radio and sensor technology. No human pilots are required.
All in all, an exciting day for Festo R&D, and watch this space next month as I report on seeing these technologies in person!