Whether at Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida or in the Phaeno Science Center in Wolfsburg, visitors like to converse with the humanoid robot RoboThespian. It approaches them directly and does so with movements that look quite natural. All this is made possible by the latest technology from Festo, such as the fluidic muscle and piezo valves. The 1.75-metre-tall humanoid weighing 33 kilograms was developed by Engineered Arts Limited in the English town of Penryn in Cornwall.
Depending on the programming and the technical equipment, the RoboThespian can actively talk with someone else. His name says it all as ‘Thespian’ is an old English word for an actor. The clever robot speaks several languages and recognizes faces and gestures.
If you say certain key words, it starts with readily defined reactions. It can also use search engines and access information on the Internet independently to give exact answers and advice. If it is controlled by people via a wireless headset and tablet, it can even address visitors individually. There are currently more than 60 of these robots worldwide, mainly in museums, universities or permanent displays, where they delight visitors.
Much of its human-like agility relies on the pneumatic fluidic muscle from Festo. Fluidic muscle DMSP from Festo. It is a membrane contraction system, a flexible tube with so-called multifilament yarns that reinforce and support, and are integrated in a diamond-shaped structure.
The system acts like a human muscle, contracting and relaxing – and all without frictional resistance or breakaway torque, in other words stick-slip free. The movement of the arms and hands is carried out by a total of two or eight fluidic muscles in different sizes.
The artificial muscles are controlled among other components by piezo valves VEAB from Festo. They offer numerous benefits compared to conventional solenoid valves, especially in applications for flow and pressure regulation, as well as directly controlled proportional valves. They are very small, lightweight, extremely precise, very durable, switch extremely quickly and require up to 50 per cent less energy. Furthermore, they generate virtually no waste heat and operate almost silently.
RoboThespian is a fascinating example of human–machine communication. It is an impressive representation of the future potential of Industry 4.0. People create and program the machine that then reacts largely autonomously and flexibly to its surroundings.