You could apologize if you think that the German robotics company Festo does nothing other than put together fabulous prototype robots that resemble kangaroos, jellyfish and other creatures. In fact, they make real industrial robots, but it's hard not to see their biomimetic experiments. A typical example is the feathered BionicSwift and the absurd BionicMobileAssistant arm.
Festo already has a robot for flying birds – I wrote about it almost 10 years ago. They even made a flying bat as a result. However, the BionicSwift is more impressive than both, as it flies with feathers to get closer to its bird inspiration.
“The individual slats (i.e. springs) consist of an ultra-light, flexible, but very robust foam and lie like shingles on top of each other. They are connected with a carbon spring and attached to the actual hand and arm wings like the natural model, ”Festo writes in his description of the robot.
The articulated lamellae allow the wing to work like a bird and form a powerful blade on the downward stroke to push against the air. However, a separation is made on the upward stroke in order to generate less resistance. Everything is controlled on board, including the indoor positioning system, which the bird is said to be built to demonstrate. BionicSwifts flocks can fly up close and avoid each other with an ultra broadband setup.
Festo's BionicMobileAssistant seems to be more practical, and in a way it is, but not much. The robot is basically an arm that comes from a wheel base – or rather a ball ball. The spherical bottom is driven by three "Omniwheels" so that it can move easily in any direction and at the same time minimize the space required.
The hand is a showcase of modern robotic gripper design that packs all sorts of cutting edge technology – but the result is less than the sum of its parts. What makes a robotic hand good these days is not so much that it has a hundred sensors in the palm and fingers and an enormous mobility for the thumb as the intelligence about what it grips. An unadorned pliers can be a better “hand” than one that looks real because of the software it secures.
Not to mention the spherical movement strategy that leads to an unstable basis. It is significant that the robot transports scarves and not plates of food or parts.
Of course, it is silly to criticize such a machine, which is more determined than practical. However, it is important to understand that these fascinating creations from Festo are primarily indications of a possible future.