Tuesday, December 07, 2010

The Pneumatic Pachyderm & Other Bionic Wonders

Inspired by the flexibility of an elephant's trunk, engineers in Germany have developed a "Bionic Handling Assistant" that is both light and flexible and could be used as a third arm in places ranging from industrial workshops to assisted living centers.

The robotic arm, made of lightweight plastic and powered by compressed air, was designed by a team from Festo, a German supplier of pneumatic and electrical automation parts, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing and Engineering Automation.

They were inspired by the flexibility of an elephant's trunk which has over 40,000 muscle fibers that allow it to move in any direction. Though it's not yet clear how the robotic arm could really be used, it is eerily similar to a real elephant trunk. That they were able to replicate the unique appendage with little more than plastic and air is pretty cool, too.

If you watch the video above, besides occasionally looking behind the trunk for the rest of the elephant's head, you'll probably have a strong reaction to the cool Festo inventions making cameos at the 2:15 minute mark. In case you wanted more, here they are in all their mesmerizing glory:

Now, if they would find a way to combine this elephant arm with the ingenious granular gripper, we'd be in business.

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