Festo Unveils New Bio-Inspired Robots, BionicMobileAssistant and BionicSwift

A flock of bird-bots and a mobile manipulator are the company's latest developments.

Festo is known for its bio-inspired robots, with some that model kangaroos, bats, jellyfish, and other animals. The company’s biomimetic robots are a modern marvel, but it has been a while since we’ve seen anything new from the talented engineers, until now. Festo recently highlighted a pair of robots, including the BionicMobileAssistant, a rolling robot outfitted with a dexterous hand, and BionicSwift, a robot that flies using artificial feathers.

The BionicMobileAssistant is designed to work with humans on the production line and is a modular robot outfitted with a ballbot base, lightweight robotic arm, and Festo’s BionicSoftHand 2.0 module. The ballbot base is comprised of three omnidirectional wheels that drive a ball, allowing the robot to move in any direction and maintain balance. The hand sits at the end of a robotic arm and features pneumatic fingers with an opposable thumb, which is outfitted with bone-like elements, flexible bellows, and knitted fabric. A 3D-printed wrist enables the hand to move left, right, up, back and forth with 2DOF.

Festo’s BionicSwift artificial bird was developed using ultra-light feathers created from flexible, robust foam and carbon quill, and lie on top of each other like shingles and connected to the body. Inside the robotic bird’s body lies the wing-flapping mechanism, which uses a brushless electric motor, a pair of servos, and a gearbox to actuate the wings. The wings function similar to a real bird, using feathers with closed ranks to gain lift, and fan-out to allow air through the wings, providing less force to pull back up.

Everything is controlled onboard the robotic bird, including an integrated indoor positioning system, which serves as a location anchor for other BionicSwift birds when flown as a flock. Each bird has a radio marker that sends signals to the bird outfitted with the anchor, so their position can be tracked by a PC that acts as a navigation system for the birds to fly a pre-programmed route. There are few applications for the BionicSwift beyond use as a 3D navigator in an automated factory, but that could change in the future.

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