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Bionic Handling Assistant: safe human-machine interaction

Bionic Handling Assistant

Safe human-machine interaction

At first glance, the Bionic Handling Assistant looks like a flexible gripper arm that is modeled on the elephant's trunk in structure and overall function. Our researchers also use the system as a development platform that combines a wide variety of technologies and components.

The Bionic Handling Assistant works with free mobility and flexibility. It is also safe in direct contact between machines and human beings. In the event of a collision, the pneumatic bellows structure yields immediately and therefore does not have to be carefully shielded from humans like conventional robots. The assistance system was awarded the German Future Prize for 2010.

Adaptive gripper based on a biological role model

The gripper of the Bionic Handling Assistant consists of three adaptive fingers, the principle of action of which also originates from the animal world: Like the fish fin, the structure with Fin Ray Effect® does not bend away under lateral pressure – it curves around the pressure point. In this way, the fingers close gently around the material being gripped and enable non-destructive handling of fragile and differently shaped objects.

The Bionic Handling Assistant thus provides new approaches to the question of how humans and technology can interact easily, efficiently and above all safely in the factory of tomorrow.

Mechatronic development platform

At the same time, the system serves as a multi-technology platform for the simultaneous development of mechanics, electronics and software for machines and handling solutions. In 2012, our engineers added image and speech recognition to the assistant. It enables the system to grip objects independently – without programming or manual operation.

This continuous development shows how the Bionic Learning Network is an integral part of our innovation processes. Together with a wide variety of partners, natural principles provide us with new impulses for technical applications and the industry of tomorrow. The Bionic Handling Assistant is a joint project with the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Engineering and Automation (IPA).

Individual production thanks to selective laser sintering

Both the gripper and the bellows structure of the gripper arm are made of polyamide using the Selective Laser Sintering process (SLS). The generative production method allows the design of individual movable system parts, which are difficult to realize with conventional technologies.

At the beginning, the material is in powder form and is applied to a construction platform in thin layers during the production process. Each layer is fused to the underlying layer with a laser and only cured where the program requires it. In cavities, the powder does not harden and can therefore be removed later. This ensures individual 3D printing of complex products and designs.