BionicSoftArm: Modular pneumatic lightweight robot


Modular pneumatic lightweight robot 

Whether free and flexible movements or defined sequences, thanks to its modular design, the pneumatic lightweight robot can be used for numerous applications. In combination with various adaptive grippers, it can pick up and handle a wide variety of objects and shapes. At the same time, it is completely compliant and poses no danger to the user even in the event of a collision.


Potential for the collaborative working spaces of the future

The BionicSoftArm thus meets two essential requirements of the collaborative working spaces of tomorrow: the strict separation between the manual work of the factory worker and the automated actions of the robot is being increasingly set aside. In this way, human and machine will be able to simultaneously work together on the same workpiece or component in the future.

On the one hand, this presupposes that automated robot solutions can interact directly and safely with humans – without them having to be shielded from each other for safety reasons. On the other hand, these open working spaces will primarily require robots that can be flexibly adapted and independently adapt to different products and scenarios.

Largest possible version: the BionicSoftArm with seven pneumatic actuators and just as many degrees of freedom
Largest possible version: the BionicSoftArm with seven pneumatic actuators and just as many degrees of freedom

Modular system with a wide range of applications

The BionicSoftArm owes its flexibility to its modular design, which can be combined from several pneumatic bellows segments and rotary drives. Depending on the requirements, the length of the BionicSoftArm can be varied with up to seven pneumatic actuators, thus providing maximum flexibility in working range and mobility. This makes it very easy to implement applications that are difficult to realise with a standard robot.

This allows the BionicSoftArm to work around obstacles even in the tightest of spaces. Direct human–robot collaboration is just as possible as use in classic SCARA applications – for example, pick-and-place tasks. the elimination of costly safety devices such as cages and light barriers shortens conversion times and thus enables flexible use at different locations – completely in accordance with adaptive and economical production.

  • BionicSoftArm

    Classic SCARA application: adaptive form gripping in the horizontal plane

  • BionicSoftArm

    Flexible assistance system: as a helping third hand in assembly

  • BionicSoftArm

    Safe soft robotics components: the BionicSoftArm in combination with the BionicSoftHand

  • BionicSoftArm

    A new fibre technology: the special 3D textile knitted fabric surrounding the flexible bellows structures

  • BionicSoftArm

    Graphical user interface: for fast programming of processes and intuitive operation

Natural role model and bionic predecessors

The Bionic Learning Network team has incorporated numerous findings and technologies from previous projects in the development of the BionicSoftArm: like its two predecessors – the Bionic Handling Assistant and the BionicMotionRobot – the BionicSoftArm is inspired by the elephant’s trunk in its movements and functionality. With its pneumatic bellows structures, the BionicSoftArm effortlessly masters the flowing motion sequences of its natural role model.

Targeted motion dynamics through 3D textile knitted fabric

The bellows are made of sturdy elastomer. Each one of them is covered with a special 3D textile knitted fabric which consists of two layers. A soft knitted fabric lies directly on the bellows to protect them from friction and wear. The high-strength fibres are oriented so that they allow the bellows structures to expand in the required direction of movement and at the same time limit this in the other directions. It is only thanks to this new fibre technology that the power potential of the entire kinematics can be exploited.

The BionicSoftArm (right) with its two predecessors – the Bionic Handling Assistant and the BionicMotionRobot
The BionicSoftArm (right) with its two predecessors – the Bionic Handling Assistant and the BionicMotionRobot

Intuitive operation on the tablet

The software architecture of the BionicSoftArm also builds on previous projects of the Bionic Learning Network: it is operated intuitively via the Robotic Suite. The graphical user interface was developed specifically for Festo’s bionic lightweight robots and was used for the first time in the BionicCobot. With a tablet, the user can quite easily teach the actions and set their parameters.

Position-accurate movements thanks to digitised pneumatics

The commands are implemented by a Festo Motion Terminal VTEM, which makes the control and regulation of complex kinematics possible in the first place. Through the internal control algorithms of its motion apps and the installed piezo valves, flow rates and pressures can be exactly dosed and also varied to any setting in several channels simultaneously. That enables both powerful and fast, as well as soft and sensitive, motion sequences.

The interface between the tablet and the Festo Motion Terminal is the ROS (Robot Operating System) open source platform, on which the kinematics’ path planning is calculated. In addition, the ROS interprets the incoming code from the tablet and forwards the resulting axis coordinates to the Motion Terminal.