Festo AirPenguins

Autonomous Systems with Collective Behavior

Giant animatronic spiders, jellyfish and penguins — these are the stalwarts of imaginative genius offered up by the German automation company Festo.

The penguins are their latest installment of robotic creativity and while they do an impressive job of swimming, what's even more amazing is that they've given their penguins the power to do things that normal penguins can only dream of. Fly.

Using the anatomy of actual penguins as their inspiration, they applied their penchant for creating advanced motion systems to a pair of steel waddlers that move through the water like their Antarctic brethren and fly through the air like a bird.

The two types of penguins, swimming and flying have two distinctly different features. The swimming penguins have wings that are as useless for flying as those of real penguins. The spring steel wings infused with silicon elasticity allows the metal birds to slip through the water in a manner that all but mimics their flesh and blood relatives. The wings not only propel the robotic penguins through the water, but they are also used as a form of rudder, the body flexibility allowing the birds to pitch and fly through the water at incredible angles.

A flying penguin, on the other hand, is just plain unnatural. Then again, so is a penguin that doesn't need a meal of fish every couple of hours and could never be found guilty of staining your carpet. The wings are where the nuances in purpose of the two types of birds are most prominent. For the flying penguins, the wings are made of lightweight polyurethane foam and are attached by a strut that connects to either side of the robot penguin's body.

According to Karen Field of Design News, whether flying or swimming, these metal birds have amazing versatility built in to their bodies. With a neck, head and tail design that allows unfettered movement in the torso, they look an awful lot like fish. The body parts are made out of flexible struts, which are connected together with small rings so the birds can twist and bend in virtually any angle.

The penguins come equipped with digital actuators and an advanced communication and navigation system, which allows them to move through an environment freely or based on a predetermined motion profile. How do they perform? Just ask anyone who saw the robots put on a show at the Hannover Fair in Germany.

Of course, the ability to make a robotic penguin is fine, but what excited the Editor-in-Chief of Design News even more was the applicability of the robotics. Festo has parlayed their penguin success in to intuitive, form-fitting gripping technology called a Bionic Tripod.

robotic penguinThese robotic penguins' flexible moves inspire new pick-and-place technology
engineersTwo engineers use remote control to drive Festo's aqua penguins.


pic and place technologyPick-and-place technology based on the penguins' flexible moves
gripping devicesMarcus Fischer demonstrates the flexibility of the pick-and-place gripping devices.

The Bionic Tripod was still in its infancy as of the time of the Design News article. The prototype pick-and-place system uses the same versatile movement that Festo created for their penguins, that being one of flexible anatomy construction through a series of lightweight, fiberglass rods and links. The combination of materials, with pneumatic bellows and fingers, when hooked together form a tripod, thus the name. The bionic tripod can be manipulated for pick-and-place applications.

According to Festo spokesman, Marcus Fisher, the bionic tripod makes it possible to pick up and carry objects that are difficult to hold because of shape or fragility.

Even while Festo continues to perfect this technology, they are busy finding new ways to put their engineering expertise to use creating faster and smoother operating switching value terminals and integrated linear motors. The key focus is on more applicable executions for future development. Could flying pigs be far behind?