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Bionic Handling Assistant by Festo
by IKE 23-Sep-2010 18:22

This is another ingenious robotic concept by Festo. The 'Bionic Handling Assistant' is a robotic arm similar to an elephant's trunk that uses artificial pneumatic "muscles" to operate. It is a fully working prototype and much like the other Festo robotic concepts, it uses off the shelf equipment made by the company. It is developed by the network of researchers (Universities, companies etc) that consist the "Bionic Learning Network.---

Like all the other bio-inspired concepts, the Handling-Assistant is similar in shape and function to an elephant's trunk. Where nature uses muscles, Festo's concept has three flexible air chambers linked in parallel. By altering the pressure differentially the arm bents in a controllable way and by collectively altering the pressure the arm can extend or retract. There are 3 main 'muscle' groups, the main big group, the middle smaller and more precise group and a single chamber that controls the 3 'finger' gripper which itself is a very cleverly designed to flex in order to grab objects.

As observed by botjunkie.com the arm isn't extremely precise although it has position sensors whose feedback is taken into consideration. However it isn't destined to be used in applications where extreme precision is required and it is accurate enough to work alongside humans.

The whole arm is manufactured with 3D printing from polyamide polymer. The manufacturing method used is selective laser sintering and with this specific material the product is not only accurate and light but also flexible. 3D print allows the production of complex systems like this without expensive tooling and the final item is very reliable even if it has movable and routinely flexing parts like this. The structure is also very robust even though it doesn't use any large metal parts and it is mostly plastic.

This isn't only a promotional concept; parts of it are already in commercial use like the controller, valves and even the gripper. You can find more information here (look also at the animation and film tabs):


A promotional video from Festo:

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