‘Elephant’s trunk’ could replace industrial robots

Looking to create a robotic arm that would be both strong and dexterous, German engineering company Festo has created a bionic elephant’s trunk.

The company studied the trunk’s structure and function to create the biomechatronic handling system, known as the Bionic Handling Assistant.

Most importantly, says Festo, the trunk can be used as a safer replacement for heavy industrial robots. In the event of a collision, the system yields immediately, it says, without becoming unstable.

The design – built using 3D printing technology – consists of three basic elements. There’s a hand axis, a ball joint and the company’s adaptive FinGripper, a three-fingered device that’s designed to be able to grasp using little force.

The design “makes for smooth movemnt, with more degrees of freedom and an unparalleled mass/payload ratio, and enables efficient use of resources in production and operation,” says Festo.

The segments of the trunk are soft and light, and covered with resistance sensors to make the robot aware of contact with the people around it.

Festo reckons the Bionic Handling Assistant will have applications in the handling industry, medical technology and agriculture – but also says it could be used in the home.