Robotic arm shaped like an elephant's trunk (w/ Video)

November 25, 2010 by Lin Edwards, report
Image credit: Festo.

( -- A German automation company has come up with a new design for a flexible robotic arm, taking inspiration from the trunk of an elephant.

Festo, based in Denkendorf in Germany, worked with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation in Stuttgart to design the , known as the "Bionic Handling Assistant," as a project of Festo’s Bionic Learning Network. The arm was designed specifically to be safe when interacting with humans, which the company believes will make it useful in locations such as medical centers, plants, mechanical repair workshops, schools, and in the home.

Inspired by the elephant's trunk -- a high-tech helper for industry and the home Team from Festo and Fraunhofer IPA nominated for "Deutscher Zukunftspreis 2010"

The trunk-like arm is made of soft, compliant segments that were created from a polyamide using 3D printing technology, and is driven by a pneumatic system of tiny air chambers lining the interior of the arm. The air chambers are arranged in two rows and are inflated sequentially to provide the required movements. The arm is arranged in three segments to provide S-curve dexterity, and because the air chambers in the segments can be inflated separately, sections of the arm can be made to bend in opposite directions. The gripper is moved by means of air chambers in a fourth segment of the arm, known as the hand axis.

The arm has numerous resistance sensors that detect collisions and limit its movements when it senses contact, and this should make it safe for human interaction.

The gripper at the end of the arm has a novel shape consisting of three fin-shaped fingers constructed from compartments that collapse when the fingers enclose an object, trapping it. The FinGripper design means very little force is required to grasp objects, again reducing any risk of injury. The FinGripper is already being tested on production lines, and three different sizes are being developed, to handle objects from a grapefruit size down to hazelnut size.

The Bionic Handling Assistant has been nominated for an award in the Deutscher Zukunftspreis (German Future Award). Previous robots designed by the Bionic Learning Network include other examples of biomimicry such as penguins, jellyfish, aquatic rays and flying fins.

Explore further: The bionic arm is the future of prosthetics, and it's here today

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5 / 5 (2) Nov 25, 2010
We know who is really behind this: Dr. Octavius.
3.7 / 5 (3) Nov 25, 2010
This is a fantastic leap in egg-handling technology! But seriously, the design is rather cool as were some of the other bio-mimetic designs briefly shown.
not rated yet Nov 25, 2010
We know who is really behind this: Dr. Octavius.

That was the first thing I thought of when the video started. "I'll get you Spidey"!
not rated yet Nov 26, 2010
damn i had a imagined a design like this about a year ago, but with elctro magnets instead of pneumatics... should stop dreaming and start doing!
not rated yet Nov 26, 2010
Such Bionic Handling Assisstant would be nice at a molecular scale, for handling atoms or molecules instead of eggs. Or even at micro scale for handling organells or cells.
not rated yet Nov 27, 2010
i'd like to see this thing programmed to discipline other robots, and perhaps small children, by boxing them on the head.
not rated yet Nov 29, 2010
I like this design because it allows fluid movement. I wonder how much weight it can carry? How much can it curl? Just the specs please

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