Gripping from the air

Article of 29 April 2016 

The FreeMotionHandling combines the aspects of flying and gripping

Dragonfly wings and chameleon tongues do not have much in common at first glance. In the form of bionic projects, however, they can be combined to make a unique technology platform: the FreeMotionHandling from the Festo Bionic Learning Network. It combines the aspects of flying and gripping and enables objects to be flexibly picked up, transported and put down in the air.

The indoor flying object consists of an ultralight carbon ring with eight propellers, at the centre of which is a rotatable helium ball with an integrated gripping element. Thanks to the intelligent onboard electronics and the indoor GPS used, the ball is able to manoeuvre itself in all directions, pick up objects independently and put them down at designated places.

Dragonfly wings as a role model

It is moved by the small, adaptive propellers, whose working principle is based on the wings of a dragonfly. With their flexible membrane they are able to provide the same thrust in both directions of rotation. The developers took the wing principle of the artificial dragonfly from the BionicOpter project (2013) a step further and transferred it to the drives, which are now used on the FreeMotionHandling as well.

FreeMotionHandling and BionicOpter
FreeMotionHandling and BionicOpter

Gripping with a projectile tongue

The gripping mechanism of the FreeMotionHandling was based on the tongue of the chameleon. According to its working principle, the engineers in the Bionic Learning Network already developed a gripper last year, which wraps itself around the items being gripped in a flexible and form-fitting manner and can even collect more than one object in a single process. The principle of this FlexShapeGripper is now also used by the FreeMotionHandling to grip objects and hold onto them.

FreeMotionHandling and FlexShapeGripper
FreeMotionHandling and FlexShapeGripper

Controls with indoor GPS

The flying helium ball itself is also a further development from an earlier bionics project, the eMotionSpheres, which were driven with the adaptive propellers too. Instead of being directly fastened to the ball, however, the propellers are now attached to a delicate carbon ring, which is capable of flying even without the helium ball. The engineers also developed an indoor GPS in the eMotionSpheres project, which was able to move several flying objects in an enclosed space in a coordinated manner and without colliding. The FreeMotionHandling is now making use of this navigation system as well.

Combination creates new possibilities

The FreeMotionHandling shows how existing technologies can be combined to produce a completely new approach to a solution, which opens up entirely new possibilities for the workplace of the future. The free-moving and flexible ball could act there as a flying assistance system for people and relieve their workload – for example, when working overhead or at dizzying heights.