New bionic robot concepts inspired by nature

Festo, a global supplier of automation equipment, has unveiled three new lightweight robotic concepts which take inspiration from elephants, octopuses and the human arm.

The movements of the BionicCobot can be finely regulated to be either powerful and dynamic, or delicate and yielding - image courtesy of Festo.
The movements of the BionicCobot can be finely regulated to be either powerful and dynamic, or delicate and yielding – image courtesy of Festo.

Festo’s ‘BionicMotionRobot has been inspired by the way elephant trunks or octopus tentacles move, with the way they wrap around objects cited as the inspiration behind the OcotpusGripper.

Similarly, the ‘BionicCobot’ has been inspired by the natural movement of the human arm.

All three projects aim to demonstrate what hazard-free, direct human-robot collaboration could look like in future. The historic separation between the tasks of humans and those of robots is now making way for a more collaborative working space.

The latest bionic lightweight robots from Festo are reportedly ideally suited for safe human-robot collaboration due to their natural movement patterns and their inherently compliant pneumatics. Festo believes that the evolution of these lightweight cobots demonstrates a new, cost-efficient alternative to classic robot concepts for the future.

BionicCobot

The movement patterns of the BionicCobot are modelled on those of the human arm, from the shoulder via the upper arm, elbow, radius and ulna down to its gripping hand. Each of its seven joints uses precision-controlled closed loop pneumatics to emulate the natural operating mechanism of the biceps and triceps.

The movements of the BionicCobot can be finely regulated to be either powerful and dynamic, or delicate and yielding; the system therefore avoids endangering humans, even in the case of a collision. This is made possible by the Festo Motion Terminal’, a new pneumatic automation platform that combines high-precision mechanics, sensors and complex control and measuring technology within a very small space.

The BionicMotionRobot emulates fluid movement patterns with its flexible pneumatic bellows structure and corresponding valve and control technology – image courtesy of Festo.
The BionicMotionRobot emulates fluid movement patterns with its flexible pneumatic bellows structure and corresponding valve and control technology – image courtesy of Festo.

Depending on the task to be carried out, the BionicCobot can be fitted with different gripping systems. It is intuitively operated by means of a specially developed graphic user interface.

The user can teach the BionicCobot the actions to be performed and parametrise them. The defined work steps can then be transferred by drag-and-drop to a sequencer track for implementation in any desired order.

The entire movement sequence is virtually depicted and instantaneously simulated. The interface between the tablet and the Festo Motion Terminal is the ROS (robot operating system) platform, on which the kinematic path planning is calculated.

BionicMotionRobot

An elephant’s trunk and an octopus’s tentacles can move in a highly flexible way. The BionicMotionRobot emulates these fluid movement patterns with its flexible pneumatic bellows structure and corresponding valve and control technology.

The concept of inherently flexible kinematics is derived from an earlier Festo Bionic project, the ‘Bionic Handling Assistant’ from 2010. A new type of outer skin made from a 3D textile knitted fabric now enables the BionicMotionRobot to fully deploy the force potential of the entire kinematic system. The bionic robot arm has a significant weight to payload ratio with a loadbearing capacity of almost three kilograms – with around the same net weight.

OctopusGripper

Two rows of actively and passively controlled suction cups enable the OctopusGripper to pick up and hold many differently shaped objects – image courtesy of Festo.
Two rows of actively and passively controlled suction cups enable the OctopusGripper to pick up and hold many differently shaped objects – image courtesy of Festo.

The OctopusGripper consists of a soft silicone, inherently flexible structure that can be pneumatically controlled. If compressed air is applied to it, the tentacle bends inwards and can wrap around the object being gripped in a form-fitting and gentle manner.

Just as with its natural counterpart, two rows of actively and passively controlled suction cups are arranged on the inside of the silicone tentacle. This enables the OctopusGripper to pick up and hold many differently shaped objects.

The flexible gripper has a wide range of possible applications in combination with the BionicMotionRobot and the BionicCobot, and the Festo Motion Terminal controls and regulates both the robot arms and the gripper.