Inspired by the elephant’s trunk –
a high-tech helper for industry and the home
Successful cooperation between industry and science: the Bionic Handling Assistant’s nomination for the “Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010” (German Future Award) is an example of how industrial companies and science can successfully work together – whereby companies develop new innovations and science contributes the latest technologies. On September 21st, 2010, State Secretary Dr. Lothar Hagebölling officially presented Dr. Peter Post, Markus Fischer and Andrzej Grzesiak together with their project as one of the three teams nominated for the final round of the “Deutscher Zukunftspreis”. Launched in 1997, the German President’s award for technology and innovation is presented annually to honour researchers and developers whose inventions have brought about progress which serves mankind, improves life and creates jobs.
Dr. Peter Post – Head of Research at Festo and project spokesman of the development team – describes the Bionic Handling Assistant as “a completely new assistance system compared to conventional robots, which for the first time enables humans and machines to work together efficiently and without danger in a single team. In the case of collision, its natural compliance comes into play: firstly, because the Assistant is made of lightweight plastic, rather than heavy steel or aluminium; and secondly, because it is driven by compressed air and regulated by intelligent control technology.”
The main innovation lies in the system’s unique human-machine cooperation and compliance on contact. This means that the Assistant can be used in numerous application areas – lending a hand wherever humans need assistance. Other possible areas of use include industry, agriculture, care facilities and even at home.
“The project was inspired by the nature of the elephant’s trunk. With over 40,000 individual muscle fibres, the trunk can move freely in every direction. This fascinated us and inspired us to develop a handling system which goes far beyond anything currently available in industrial automation,” explains Markus Fischer, Head of Corporate Design at Festo. He established the Bionic Learning Network in 2006 as a forum in which companies and universities could develop technical concepts inspired by nature.
In order to drive the project, Festo enlisted the support of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart. Andrzej Grzesiak of the Fraunhofer Institute contributed two solutions to the Assistant: “The research and development of using bellows as the drive system and the technology of additive manufacturing are Fraunhofer IPA’s contributions.” Festo’s product design and the IPA’s design for additive manufacturing were both used for the Bionic Handling Assistant. By using bionic structures as well as mechatronics and additive manufacturing technology, Festo and Fraunhofer IPA have created a pioneering innovation which will have a sustained impact on the world of automation.