Bionic penguins at Hannover Fair

Two colonies of bionic penguins demonstrating collective behaviour have been developed and are being showcased at Hannover Fair.

Collective behaviour - which psychologists also call crowd behaviour - refers to social processes which emerge spontaneously 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, which developed the penguins, 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 - 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 per cent of its equivalent metal counterpart. It is capable of very efficiently moving pressure-sensitive work-pieces of varying shapes and sizes. 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.

Two colonies of bionic penguins are being released 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 3D sonar to swim around and explore their environment without bumping into one another.

The AirPenguins are filled with helium and are free to move around in an area loosely defined by ultrasonic transmitting stations and use Xbee wireless links to communicate with each other.

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