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Bionic Animals Show Nature Knows Best

In news that gives a novel spin to the term “factory farming,” automation company Festo is launching a new concept: a robotic elephant trunk known as the Bionic Handling Assistant.

You may have heard of Festo for their the automated menagerie which includes robotic penguins as well as automated rays and bionic jelly fish. The company’s Bionic Learning Network research program focuses on mechatronic and bionic concepts using nature as a model–also known as biomimicry. Inspired by the efficiency found in nature, they utilize these biological principles to design automated machines for technical and industrial applications.

The structure and functioning of the elephant-inspired Bionic Handling Assistant creates a system that can be used wherever humans need non-hazardous support from machines, like in in medical technology, rehabilitation and as an aid for the handicapped, as well as in agriculture, private homes and educational institutions. In industrial environments, the Bionic Handling Assistant can be used as a handling system to support assembly processes.

Biomimicry is nothing new. The earliest designs for airplanes were inspired by the flight of birds. Even Velcro is a product of biomimicry: its inventor was inspired by the function of burdock burrs sticking to his clothing, and set about to apply the same hook-and-loop principle to a fastener.

But bionic animals for industry? Are we going too far? Do you think it’s cool or creepy?

Watch the bionic penguins in action here:

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Melissa Breyer

Melissa Breyer is a writer and editor with a background in sustainable living, specializing in food, science and design. She is the co-author of True Food (National Geographic) and has edited and written for regional and international books and periodicals, including The New York Times Magazine. Melissa lives in Brooklyn, NY.


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12:43AM PST on Nov 8, 2014

Thank you!

9:50AM PDT on May 14, 2012

Cool and creepy but nice. I had never heard the term biomimicry but the term fits. Thanks for the story and video Melissa.

2:54PM PDT on Nov 1, 2011

Good article. Thank you.

4:38PM PDT on May 26, 2011

Thanks Melissa.

8:38AM PDT on May 21, 2011

Thanks, interesting.

12:32PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

I see no where that any animal has been harmed in any way in the research--they are being OBSERVED & their natural ways of movement copied in the machines. Yes it is likely not all the observation is done in the wild--but doing away with zoos & aquariums & all ways of holding "wild" animals "captive" is a whole different issue if that is what you are complaining about. I find it funny how some people think even the best zoo is "bad" but a well cared for pet is "good." Who is to say that the zoo creatures actually want freedom any more than your Tabby cat?

12:18PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

And AW seems to have missed the part that some of this IS used to help enable people with disabilites: "...
the elephant-inspired Bionic Handling Assistant creates a system that can be used wherever humans need non-hazardous support from machines, like in in medical technology, rehabilitation and as an aid for the handicapped..."

12:09PM PDT on Apr 5, 2011

These are generally cute & more advanced than the basic robotics that have been moving into factory work for ages. Human jobs do get "lost" but don't we wish a full team of robots were available to fix the reactor mess in Japan to keep humans out of harms way there?! Those fake penguins that seem just cute could have cameras or tools attached to spy, give traffic video feed, or make repairs to things. Our drone planes & the robots used by bomb teams or rescue teams are not so "cute" but come out of such research too. Some jobs are lost, but a whole new industry has been created too--it's called progress--when people started driving cars, most of the horse & buggy & wagon folks had to look for other work too. With dangerous industries like mining robotic could help save lives. But some people seem to have a phobia likely from watching too many sci-fi movies. No, robots are not taking over the planet! lol

12:42PM PST on Jan 16, 2011

I don't know where they are getting the money for this research on penguins, but In my opinion it could be used better elsewhere.

5:21PM PST on Dec 7, 2010

Why do animals always have to suffer for stuff like this?

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Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of
Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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