Bionic Handling Assistant

Safe human–machine interaction

At first glance, the Bionic Handling Assistant looks like a pliable gripper arm with a structure and overall function modelled on an elephant’s trunk. Our researchers also use the system as a development platform that combines a wide variety of technologies and components.

The Bionic Handling Assistant offers free-moving and pliable operation. It is even safe where there is direct contact between the machine and humans. In the event of a collision, the pneumatic bellows structure gives way immediately and therefore does not have to be carefully shielded from humans like conventional robots. The assistance system was awarded the German Future Prize for this achievement in 2010.

Adaptive gripper inspired by biology

The gripper of the Bionic Handling Assistant consists of three adaptive fingers with an operating principle that also originates from the animal world. Like the fish fin, the structure with Fin Ray Effect® does not bend away under lateral pressure – instead, it curves around the pressure point. This means that the fingers close gently around the material being gripped and enable fragile and differently shaped items to be handled without being damaged.

The Bionic Handling Assistant is thus providing new approaches to the question of how humans and technology can interact easily, efficiently and, above all, safely in the factory of tomorrow.

Mechatronic development platform

At the same time, the system serves as a multi-technology platform for the simultaneous development of mechanics, electronics and software for machines and handling solutions. In 2012, our engineers added image and voice recognition to the assistant. This enabled the system to grip objects on its own – without the need for programming work or manual operation.

This continuous development shows how the Bionic Learning Network is an integral part of our innovation processes. Together with a wide variety of partners, natural principles provide us with new inspiration for technical applications and the industry of tomorrow. The Bionic Handling Assistant is a joint project with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA).

Individual production thanks to selective laser sintering

Both the gripper and the bellows structure of the gripper arm are made of polyamide using the selective laser sintering process (SLS). The generative production method allows engineers to design individual movable system parts that are difficult to achieve with conventional technologies.

At the beginning, the material is in powder form and is applied to a construction platform in thin layers during the production process. Each layer is fused to the underlying layer with a laser and only cured where the program requires it. In cavities, the powder does not harden and can therefore be removed later. This enables individual 3D printing of complex products and designs.