The elephant trunk inspired the German company Festo to develop a bionic arm. Called the Bionic Handling Assistant, the free-moving “third hand system,” as Festo calls it, has plenty of uses in situations that require support from machines. That can include medical technology, rehabilitation and as an aid for the handicapped, as well as in agriculture, private homes and educational institutes.
Just as an elephant can stretch its trunk in any direction to reach out and grab something, so too can Festo’s invention. The end of the bionic “trunk” is quite a bit different though, as it has four claws to pick up items. Festo has placed a novel gripper with three fin-shaped fingers comprised of collapsible compartments. As the outermost ends of these digits wrap around an object, they collapse and trap the object – so very little force is needed to grasp it, and the risk of injury is reduced.
The bionic handling assistant is supposed to be safer for sensitive items because it’s not made of metal, and it uses air pressure instead of geared motors as its actuation system. A significant advantage over heavy industrial robots is the fact that direct contact between humans and machines is now no longer hazardous. In the event of a collision the system yields immediately, without becoming unstable. Its design comprising three basic elements, the hand axis with ball joint and the adaptive FinGripper makes for smooth movement, with more degrees of freedom and an unparalleled mass/payload ratio, and enables efficient use of resources in production and operation.
Using hollow plastic chambers that change size with air pressure, the Bionic Handling Assistant can move through an incredible range of motion in three dimensions. It’s designed to provide gentle forces, and to give when pushed, making it safe for working with humans in a working environment
“We are currently developing three sizes for gripping different types of objects – from hazelnuts to grapefruit. Test customers are already using the FinGripper in their production lines,” says Festo on its website.