What can we learn from nature and how can we apply this knowledge to automation technology? Festo provides answers to these questions during the 2013 International Press Conference at its facilities in Jinan and Shanghai.
With the BionicOpter and the Bionic Handling Assistant, the family-owned company Festo shows how principles from nature can be applied in automation technology. “What we need to do is simplify the challenges involved in production sequences and guarantee intuitive control of machines and plants. The current projects from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network provide visionary approaches on how to do this,” says Dr.-Ing. Heinrich Frontzek, Head of Corporate Communication and Future Concepts.
Inspired by the dragonfly flight
After bird flight had been deciphered with the SmartBird in 2011, the developers took on their next-biggest challenge in the Bionic Learning Network: creating a technical model of the dragonfly. The BionicOpter is an ultralight flying object. Just like its model in nature, the BionicOpter can fly in all directions and execute the most complicated flight manoeuvres. The BionicOpter’s ability to move each of its wings independently enables it to slow down and turn abruptly, to accelerate swiftly and even to fly backwards. This means that for the first time there is a model that can master all the flight conditions of a helicopter, a plane and even a glider. Despite its complexity, the highly integrated system can be operated easily and intuitively via a smartphone.
This unique way of flying is made possible by lightweight construction and function integration: components such as sensors, actuators and mechanical components as well as open- and closed-loop control systems are installed in a very tight space and adapted to one another. The flapping frequency, amplitude and angle of incidence are controlled by software and electronics; the pilot just has to steer the dragonfly – there is no need to coordinate the complex motion sequences.
The principles of ultra-lightweight construction are applied throughout the flying object. With a wingspan of 63 cm and a body length of 44 cm, the model dragonfly weighs just 175 grams. The wings consist of a carbon-fibre frame and a thin foil covering. The intelligent kinematics corrects any vibrations during flight and ensures flight stability. In order to stabilise the flying object, data on the position and the twisting of the wings is continuously recorded and evaluated in real time during its flight.
Inspired by the elephant’s trunk: the Bionic Handling Assistant
For the Bionic Handling Assistant, the experts at Festo were inspired by the elephant’s trunk. It is flexible, transmits large forces and serves as a precise gripping tool. Human-machine cooperation has been (r)evolutionised by analysing the structure and functioning of the elephant’s trunk and the use of new manufacturing technologies – the outcome is a completely new, biomechatronic handling system.
With the Bionic Handling Assistant, direct contact between machines and their human operators – whether accidental or intentional – is no longer hazardous: in the event of a collision with a person, the Bionic Handling Assistant yields immediately, without modifying its desired overall dynamic behaviour. The Bionic Handling Assistant then resumes its operation. Unlike heavy industrial robots, the Bionic Handling Assistant is characterised by an excellent mass-payload ratio, smooth operating motion with more degrees of freedom and efficient use of resources.
The Bionic Handling Assistant opens up new applications in the handling industry. It can be used wherever risk-free mechanical assistance is required – for example in medical technology, rehabilitation and care for the disabled, as well as in agriculture, domestic households and educational institutes.
The specific manufacturing requirements for the Bionic Handling Assistant are met by using modern rapid manufacturing technologies. Rapid manufacturing is the production of individual movable system components from polyamide, which is applied in thin layers onto a base platform. Each new layer is fused with the underlying layer by a laser beam, which hardens the layers only where this is permitted by the three-dimensional dataset of the control program. This makes individualised 3D printing of complex products possible.
About the Bionic Learning Network
The Bionic Learning Network is a network linking Festo to well-known universities, institutes and development companies. The objective of this initiative is to transfer biological principles to industrial technology and to produce innovative solutions and visions for industrial applications, all through bionics. Automated motion sequences can be made even more energy-efficient and productive using bionics, potentially providing industry with completely new solutions for practical problems.
Further information can be found at www.festo.com/bionics