Amazing nature

The NanoForceGripper: Bionics as an idea generator for automation technology


Article of 23 November 2012

Bionics is a promising source of knowledge. Scientists look at what nature is doing, on the basis of which they develop valuable technologies. This results in innovations which supplement previous knowledge with new understanding, or creatively recombine existing knowledge.



There are two methods which are decisive for the development of successful bionics technologies: the bottom-up and the top-down processes. In the case of the bottom-up process, the scientist studies a phenomenon, from which a technical application is then derived. The best example of this is the so-called FinRay Effect®, which is based on the performance of fish tail fins. It was discovered by biologist Leif Kniese while he was fishing. As opposed to previously known types of motion, the tail fin pressed against his finger when touched, instead of moving away. The observation of this phenomenon led to the development of an industrial application in cooperation with Festo, namely the adaptive gripper DHDG.



The top-down process runs in the other direction. It starts with a targeted search for the solution to a technical problem. For example, up until fairly recently it was a challenge to lift objects with smooth surfaces without the help of grippers and adhesives. After a long search, scientists discovered a biological model in the gecko. It’s capable of climbing surfaces as smooth as a mirror with uncanny assurance.


So-called van der Waals forces are generated by roughly 29,000 adhesive elements per square centimetre, with the help of which a single gecko foot can hold a weight of up to ten kilograms. So-called van der Waals forces are generated at the tip of roughly 29,000 adhesive elements per square centimetre.The gecko is able to release his feet by peeling one nano adhesive element after the other from the smooth surface in just fractions of a second.


Festo developed the NanoForceGripper using the gecko as a model. The NanoForceGripper is capable of effortlessly gripping smooth objects and letting them go again by means of a special foil which simulates the adhesive elements, and a unique releasing mechanism.


Whether bottom-up from the fish fin to the adaptive gripper DHDG or top-down from the technical problem, via the gecko and finally to the NanoForceGripper, methods used in bionics will continue to cause a sensation and promote innovative technologies in the future as well.


Current projects of the Bionic Learning Network from Festo can be viewed here