Tuesday 15 February 2011

Robotic flight for the young!

Festo’s bionic AirPenguins will be delighting the crowds at Britain's premier fair for young scientists and engineers
Having just written about Red Herrings we now have a story about Flying Penguins! Wonders never cease in the wonderful world of automation.

Festo’s famous bionic AirPenguins have again been cleared for takeoff and will be flying at The Big Bang Fair 2011 – Britain’s biggest science and engineering fair for young people. The AirPenguins will undoubtedly be one of the fair’s highlights. As well as delighting visitors with their graceful aerobatic agility as they fly around the ExCel Centre’s North Hall, they provide a thought-provoking insight into the types of energy transfer and behavioural mechanisms that could form the basis of future automation technology.

Festo’s AirPenguins incorporate a high degree of built-in intelligence and can function completely autonomously or collectively; they are capable of adaptive behaviour, and are aware of their spatial surroundings.

Intended to help 11-14 year olds choose their subject options at school, The Big Bang Fair is also guaranteed to provide a fun, yet educational day out for all 11– 19 year olds. The environment is a bit like a cross between the Science Museum and a theme park, enabling everyone to gain true hands-on experience of some of the most world’s most exciting science and engineering technology. This year’s event is likely be attended by as a many as 25,000 visitors, including some 5,000 teachers.

Although Festo’s AirPenguins are no strangers to publicity, they really need to be viewed close-hand to appreciate how engineers have created these bionic creatures, using mechanisms copied from the movement of fishes and rays. So although they will be flying each day – every hour on the hour, for 10-15 minutes – they will also be on display on Festo’s stand in the ‘Energise’ zone.

The stand will also feature displays of other Bionic developments from Festo's Bionic Learning Network, which is an alliance of educational establishments and specialist companies tasked with exploring bionic solutions for automation applications of the future. These will include the Bionic Handling Assistant, a unique handling system which takes its inspiration from an elephant’s trunk, and the FinGrippper adaptive gripping device, which embraces the way fish and rays convert energy into movement. Some of these developments have recently transferred from research to production and are already being used to considerable benefit in machines as complex as industrial robots. Winning of the ‘Innovation Oscar’ – the ‘Deutsche Zukunftspreis 2010’ (German Future Award) – by the Bionic Handling Assistant’s team is an example of how industrial companies and science can successfully work together; whereby companies develop new innovations and science contributes the latest technologies.

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