Meet the Matrix, er, Elephant Trunk-Inspired Arm of Your Future Robot Overlord


Meet Festo, a prototype robotic arm that takes its design inspiration from the way an elephant's trunk moves every which way thanks to its series of highly flexible muscle segments. Clever? Yes. On the way to real robots? Probably. Scary?...

Festo's design is actually a clever halfway house between a fully-articulated robot arm that mimics the musculo-skeletal structure of, say, a human arm (like Dean Kamen's Luke arm,) and a basic rotating-joint robot arm such as you might find currently in action welding car parts together on a production line. It's intended to perform manipulator tasks--like gripping objects off a production line and popping them into boxes, and it looks to be designed to be more dextrous than a simple jointed arm, while also being more delicate and clever about gripping the objects it finds. That would seem to make it ideal for manufacturing tasks that current robots might not be so suitable for, such as in the food industry, or possibly to help those armless robo-butlers we showed you recently grip and move things about your home.

The Festo arm is based on an elephant's trunk anatomy--with segmented parts that are made of lightweight rapid-prototyped plastic material and air pressure-driven "muscle" chambers. The fact that its triangular in cross-section means it can really reach pretty much everywhere beneath it with ease, to position its gripper for action (and the gripper itself is designed to gently conform to the object it picks up). Check out the impressive demo in the video below, along with a couple more examples from the company's Bionic Learning Network series.

Did that use of the word "bionic" send a Steve Austin-like shiver up your spine? Well, if it didn't, then this will: Because the Festo arm is a lot, and we mean a lot, like the tentacular manipulator pods that dangled by the dozen off those vicious robots in The Matrix. Which makes it look a lot less like a friendly elephant's trunk now, doesn't it? There, we said it: And another tiny piece of the coming robocalypse slides into place...

Matrix robot

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