The Festo Bionic Learning Network will once again provide new impetus for the automation technology of tomorrow at Hannover Messe in 2014. With the “BionicKangaroo”, the “DualWingGenerator”, the “MultiChoiceGripper” and the “eMotionSpheres” flying objects, Festo shows how principles taken from nature can inspire unique solutions for the future of the automation sector.
The future fields surrounding this year’s projects from the Festo Bionic Learning Network include research activities focused on the topics of energy recovery, self-organisation, adaptive systems, new drive concepts and positioning systems. In this respect, the focus is on a holistic approach on the way to the production of the future. Fundamental technologies for networked overall systems and the interaction of man and machine are highly pertinent here.
BionicKangaroo – Energy-efficient jump kinematics based on a natural model
A development team from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network spent two years recreating the jumping behaviour of the natural kangaroo as closely as possible and learning from it. The BionicKangaroo now demonstrates exactly what distinguishes the natural kangaroo, namely recovering and storing energy and retrieving it on the next jump. The Achilles tendon assumes an important function here, which is why it is particularly pronounced on the natural kangaroo. The function of the natural Achilles tendon is carried out with the help of an elastic band made of rubber. It is fastened at the back of the foot and parallel to a pneumatic cylinder on the knee joint. The artificial tendon cushions the jump, simultaneously absorbs the kinetic energy and releases it for the next jump.
The condition monitoring as well as the precise control technology ensure the required stability when jumping and landing. The kangaroo achieves its high jumping power with the aid of pneumatics. In the places where the highest positioning accuracy is called for, electric motors are used – for example, when it comes to controlling the tail and hip. In this way Festo uses the artificial kangaroo to show how pneumatic and electric drive technology can be combined by means of a new control generation developed by Festo to make a highly dynamic system.
Festo paid particular attention to the mobile energy supply on the artificial kangaroo. For this purpose, the team even developed two different concepts – one with an integrated compressor and one with a mobile high-pressure storage device. The movement apparatus (kinematics) is made out of laser-sintered parts reinforced with carbon. As a result, the artificial animal weighs just seven kilograms with a height of around one metre, and it can jump up to 40 centimetres high and up to a distance of 80 centimetres. The BionicKangaroo is controlled using gestures.
eMotionSpheres – Collision-free motion of autonomous systems in an area
The eight white spheres fly in all directions above the heads of those watching, before the random movements develop into an organised formation. Suddenly, one of the spheres detaches itself and the others follow it like pearls on a string. The perfect line turns into a sine curve in the air until the spheres form a circle. These flight manoeuvres are part of an elaborate choreography displayed by this year's eMotionSpheres flying objects.
With the eMotionSpheres, Festo shows how several objects can be coordinated without colliding in a three-dimensional space thanks to multifaceted networking. Ten cameras installed in the room record the spheres via their active infrared markers (infrared LEDs) and pass on the position data to a central master computer. The actions calculated are sent back to the objects, where they are locally implemented. On the computer there are preprogrammed paths, which specify the spheres’ flight paths when flying in formation. Thanks to additionally stored behaviour patterns, the spheres can equally move autonomously through the space, however. There are no collisions even in chaotic situations, as they move out of each other’s way. The spheres can also be controlled individually by people and, because of their process reliability, consistent lightweight design and flexible propellers, they are safe and easy to operate.
The knowledge gained from the work on the BionicOpter in 2013 went into the design of the adaptive propellers. The developers pursued the wing principle on the artificial dragonfly and transferred it to the unique drives used by the spheres. the drives are adaptive, supplying the same efficient thrust in a forwards and reverse direction. Each of the eight spheres has a diameter of 95 cm and is filled with helium. As the spheres stop at their charging stations regularly and autonomously, they can be used as flying objects for several days without a person having to intervene.
With the eMotionSpheres installation and the indoor GPS (Global Positioning System) derived from it, Festo addresses aspects of the factory of the future, such as the safe and intuitive interaction between man and machine or the autonomous and adaptable behaviour of technical systems, which permit controlled interventions by people at any time and hence create new prospects for the workspace of the future. In the field of logistics, the system could be put to use as a way of monitoring the function of small robots or vehicles. It could also be conceivably used as a guidance system – whether for visitors at trade fairs, museums or large indoor events.
DualWingGenerator – power generation with the wing-beating principle
With the DualWingGenerator, as part of the Bionic Learning Network, Festo has developed an extraordinary technology platform that uses two pairs of horizontally arranged wings instead of rotor blades to generate power. The system’s principle consists of reversing the natural wing-beating principle: birds generate the necessary power to move forwards in the air by flapping their wings. A stationary system like the DualWingGenerator, on the other hand, can take the kinetic energy from the flow of air. The wings’ lifting movement is converted here into a rotary movement. An integrated electric motor turns this into electricity. The DualWingGenerator is self-optimising and can adapt itself to different wind conditions. In terms of its efficiency, it is by no means inferior to conventional small wind power stations and features amazing benefits even at low wind speeds: In the range between 4 and 8 m/s, meaning at prevailing wind speeds in Central Europe at ground level, the DualWingGenerator reveals remarkable outputs compared to conventional small wind power stations.
MultiChoiceGripper – Variable gripping based on the human hand
The MultiChoiceGripper offers a unique combination of different grip types with flexible, adaptive gripping fingers. Its fingers can therefore be switched over so that they can either grip in a parallel or centric direction, without requiring any conversion. This is enabled by two rotatable finger slots on the base body of the gripper, which are arranged either around a central point or opposite the third finger. This is inspired by the human hand with its opposable thumb, which can be rotated by 130 degrees in relation to the other fingers. Depending on requirements, between two and six finger elements can be fitted to the MultiChoiceGripper. Besides the Fin Ray® fingers, two other types of fingers can be attached.
Due to the adaptive fingers with a Fin Ray® structure, the MultiChoiceGripper is not only variable in terms of the direction of grip as the fingers themselves can adapt to a wide variety of shapes. It can therefore grip differently shaped and also very sensitive objects without additional sensor or control technology. The adaptive Fin Ray®-Fingers were designed in 2009 for the bionic FinGripper and have been continually developed ever since. For instance, since 2014 they have been made of food-compliant polyurethane, which means they can be used for the food industry.