Factory of the Future: Bugs, Butterflies and Lizard Tongues

April 14, 2015
biomimicry, festo, hannover messe, innovation, automation, technoloy
Hannover Messe: Festo engineers take a lesson from nature to create the flexible, autonomous factory tools of the future.
The Festo booth at Hannover Messe highlights a new concept for industrial automation, moving away from the cold mechanical arms of the past toward a future of nature-inspired innovations.

Festo engineers have developed a new range of robots and devices that mimic the natural structures and behaviors of insects and animals to unleash new capabilities into the industrial world.

For example, the company has developed BionicANTs that communicate with each other and coordinate their actions. The ants, about five inches long, make their own autonomous decisions, but coordinate with each other to perform tasks, just as they do in the natural world.

Festo sees the application of this technology in factories where production systems are based on intelligent components that react to different situations and flexibly operate to customize output. "Tasks that are now managed by a central master computer will be taken over by the components in future," Festo predicts.

Also on display are a flock pale green eMotionButterflies that demonstrate how the real and virtual worlds can operate together.

The ultra-lightweight bionic butterflies have integrated electronics that control their wings and produce rapid flight movements. An external guidance and monitoring system, in essence an indoor GPS system, controls the butterflies' flight and allows them to fly safely without collisions. The butterflies can operate either on pre-programmed flight paths that are stored on a host computer, or through additional stored patterns that permit them to fly autonomously. No human pilot is required to fly the robot butterflies.

Festo also is showing the FlexShapeGripper, a robot gripper based on a chameleon's tongue. When an chameleon sights its insect prey, Festo explained, it shoots out its tongue like an elastic band and draws in the insect. The FlexShapeGripper can grip different shapes through use of a water-filled silicone cap which wraps around items. Pneumatics control the gripping and release mechanism.

"In the production of the future, increasingly flexible systems and components will be required that autonomously adapt to individual products. Adaptable grasping devices like the FlexShapeGripper can assume a significant role in this process," Festo states.

Read more on Hannover Messe and Festo's biomimicry innovations at IndustryWeek.

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