With the BionicKangaroo, German industrial control and automation company Festo, has technologically reproduced the unique way a kangaroo moves. We talked to Dr. Heinrich Frontzek, Head of Bionic Learning Network at Festo to learn more about this cutting edge technology.
How is your project important to the world?
As an innovation leader for automation technology, Festo is always on the lookout for new or not yet widespread movement patterns and drive concepts. One source for new knowledge and future technologies here is nature. With the BionicKangaroo, we have technologically reproduced the unique way a kangaroo moves. Like its natural model, it can recover the energy when jumping, store it and efficiently use it for the next jump. On the artificial kangaroo, we have combined pneumatic and electrical drive technology to produce a highly dynamic system.
- The stable jump kinematics and precise control technology ensure stability.
- The consistent lightweight construction facilitates the unique jumping behaviour.
- The system is controlled by gestures.
We paid particular attention to the mobile energy supply on the artificial kangaroo. For this purpose, the team even developed two different concepts – one with an integrated compressor and one with a mobile high-pressure storage device. As a result, the artificial animal weighs just seven kilograms with a height of around one meter (3.2 feet), and it can jump up to 40 centimeters (1.3 feet) high and up to a distance of 80 centimeters (2.6 feet).
What were your biggest engineering and design challenges?
The biggest challenges during the development of the BionicKangaroo were to maintain balance after jumping. Therefore it is essential to precisely control the hip and tail movement before and while jumping and to control the stiffness of the legs during landing. All of this has to be done in milliseconds. Therefore we learned a lot about control systems and precision. We used the CECC of Festo as control system and learned to take it to the extremes.
Furthermore we learned a lot about lightweight construction. Lightweight construction was necessary to enable the unique jumping behavior of the BionicKangaroo. The kinematic system is made out of laser-sintered parts reinforced with carbon. As a result, the artificial animal weighs just seven kilograms (15.4 lbs).
Mixing precision and strength
Most interestingly we combine electrical and pneumatic drives. The electrical drives are necessary for precise movements while the pneumatic actuators are necessary for the dynamic jumping behavior because of strength reasons and especially since pneumatic actuators are compliant, which is very important for jumping. Together the electrical and pneumatic drive technology leads to a highly dynamic system which is still very energy efficient. We paid particular attention to the mobile energy supply on the artificial kangaroo and even developed two different concepts for this purpose.
What did you learn with BionicKangaroo?
A development team from Festo’s Bionic Learning Network spent two years recreating the jumping behavior of the natural kangaroo as closely as possible and learning from it. The Bionic Learning Network is a cooperation between Festo and renowned universities, institutes and development companies. It is closely linked with the innovation processes within our learning company and constitutes part of our commitment in the field of technical education and training. The team had dozens of members from these universities and different departments at Festo.
Besides the technical implementation of the unique jumping kinematics, the BionicKangaroo demonstrates several aspects of integrated automation at once: the system brings its components together in the smallest space. Other interesting approaches for the automation technology of the future are the concept of recovering, storing and efficiently reusing potential energy as well as the energy supply system thanks to mobile pneumatics. In industrial automation, knowledge about energy recovery and storage plays an important role – for instance when it comes to recovering heat on compressors or feeding electrical energy back into the mains.
What are the practical applications for the technologies used in this project.
Within the Bionic Learning Network we work on projects inspired by nature delivering new impulses for production and automation. Nature’s processes were optimized for millions of years and we can learn a lot about lightweight construction, energy-efficiency or new materials. And, we combine electrical and pneumatic drives. All of these learnings will find their way into the products of the future.
The BionicKangaroo however will not become a product, as is the case for all of our bionic projects. They will travel the world and will be presented at fairs, museums and conferences to fascinate our customers. Moreover they will also fascinate the youth and might arouse their interest for technology and bionics.
Thank you for the interview Dr. Frontzek. Take a look at another interview on GrabCAD blog about the SmartBird.