Monday, April 20, 2009

Festo's Bionic Learning Network

Festo's Bionic Learning Network has developed two colonies of bionic penguins that demonstrate collective behaviour. This type of behaviour - which psychologists also call crowd behaviour - refers to social processes which emerge in a spontaneous manner when members of a group interact. In robotic terms, each penguin is an autonomous self-regulating unit that is free to explore its defined environment using complex built-in navigation and communication facilities, and is capable of modifying its behaviour in the presence of others, to fulfil a group purpose.

Festo believes that autonomous, self-regulating processes are likely to become increasingly significant in automated production systems of the future. An example of this technology could be the organisation of highly flexible, autonomous robots within a pull-through production environment.

The transfer flow, from research to practical everyday use, is already apparent: the penguins use the highly innovative 3D Fin Ray Effect structure - co-developed with the specialist bionics company EvoLogics GmbH - to create very lifelike movement of their heads and tails. The 3D Fin Ray Effect structure is based on two flexible bands which meet at their tips to form a triangle, with interconnecting links spaced at regular intervals. Festo has incorporated this structure in an adaptive gripping device known as the FinGripper, manufactured from polyamide powder using a selective laser sintering process, which weighs just 10% of its equivalent metal counterpart and is capable of moving pressure-sensitive work-pieces of varying shapes and sizes very efficiently. To further demonstrate the potential benefits of this technology, Festo has taken its kinematic tripod robot solution and developed a dynamic display called BionicTripod, which integrates the gripper with an innovative 3-axis positioning system.

Festo is releasing two colonies of bionic penguins on the unsuspecting public, at the Hannover Messe trade exhibition in Germany. Each colony comprises three individuals. The AquaPenguins are confined to a water tank, and use special 3D sonar to swim around and explore their environment without bumping into one another. But the AirPenguins are a different matter altogether; perhaps because their real-life counterparts have evolved to the point where they are unable to fly like other marine birds, the bionic versions seem determined to make up for lost time. Although the air space available for these helium-filled creatures is loosely defined by ultrasonic transmitting stations, they are entirely free to move around their 'sea of air' without let or hindrance, using Xbee wireless links to communicate with each other.

For a video on these bionic AQUA PENGUINS, click here.

For a video on these bionic AIR PENGUINS, click here.

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