Pneumatic robotics meets artificial intelligence

Whether its grabbing, holding or turning, touching, typing or pressing – in everyday life, we use our hands as a matter of course for the most diverse tasks. In that regard, the human hand, with its unique combination of power, dexterity and fine motor skills, is a true miracle tool of nature. What could be more natural than equipping robots in collaborative workspaces with a gripper that is modelled after this model of nature, that solves various tasks by learning through artificial intelligence? Festo introduces the latest bionic concepts from the field of bionics suitable for human-robot collaboration, the pneumatic robot hand BionicSoftHand and the BionicSoftArm, a modular pneumatic lightweight robot.

The BionicSoftHand is pneumatically operated so that it can interact safely and directly with people. Unlike the human hand, the BionicSoftHand has no bones. Its fingers consist of flexible bellows structures with air chambers. The bellows are enclosed in the fingers by a special 3D textile coat knitted from both, elastic and high-strength threads. With the help of the textile, it is possible to determine exactly where the structure expands and generates power, and where it is prevented from expanding. This makes it light, flexible, adaptable and sensitive, yet capable of exerting strong forces.

Artificial Intelligence

The learning methods of machines are comparable to those of humans: either in a positive or a negative way – they require a feedback following their actions in order to classify and learn from them. BionicSoftHand uses the method of reinforcement learning. This means: Instead of imitating a specific action, the hand is merely given a goal. It uses the trial and error method, to achieve its goal. Based on received feedback, it gradually optimises its actions until the task is finally solved successfully.

Specifically, the BionicSoftHand should rotate a 12-sided cube so that a previously defined side points upwards at the end. The necessary movement strategy is taught in a virtual environment with the aid of a digital twin, which is created with the help of data from a depth-sensing camera via computer vision and the algorithms of artificial intelligence.

More information can be found here: https://www.festo.com/group/en/cms/13508.htm  

BionicSoftArm: One robot arm, many possible variations

Whether free and flexible movements or defined sequences, thanks to its modular design, the pneumatic lightweight robot can be used for numerous applications. In combination with various adaptive grippers, it can pick up and handle a wide variety of objects and shapes. At the same time, it is completely compliant and poses no danger to the user even in the event of a collision.

The BionicSoftArm thus meets two essential requirements of the collaborative working spaces of tomorrow: the strict separation between the manual work of the factory worker and the automated actions of the robot is being increasingly set aside. In this way, human and machine will be able to simultaneously work together on the same workpiece or component in the future. On the one hand, this presupposes that automated robot solutions can interact directly and safely with humans – without them having to be shielded from each other for safety reasons. On the other hand, these open working spaces will primarily require robots that can be flexibly adapted and independently adapt to different products and scenarios.

Modular system with a wide range of applications

The BionicSoftArm owes its flexibility to its modular design, which can be combined from several pneumatic bellows segments and rotary drives. Depending on the requirements, the length of the BionicSoftArm can be varied with up to seven pneumatic actuators, thus providing maximum flexibility in working range and mobility. This makes it very easy to implement applications that are difficult to realise with a standard robot.

More information can be found here: https://www.festo.com/group/en/cms/13527.htm

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