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For those in the know, Festo is a name means something. They’re a German industrial control and automation company for the most part that also makes some cool bio-inspired robots. Their latest creation doesn’t look like anything that lives out in the wild, but there’s certainly something that feels organic about it.
FreeMotionHandling, Festo’s latest creation, is an indoor unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that shares very little with the recognisable drone we’ve all come to know and love. The balloon-shaped drone can autonomously manoeuvre and pick up objects – quite literally swallow them up.
It’s made of an inflated plastic body filled with helium for buoyancy with a carbon frame ring around its middle equipped with eight propellers for fine movement control.
The gripping mechanism is based in a chameleon’s tongue. If you’ve ever pushed a finger into the section of a balloon where you tie it off, then you have a pretty good idea of how it works – it retracts into the inflated sphere, pulling the object inside with a rope winch.
To navigate, FreeMotionHandling uses an indoor GPS that was previously shown to work on Festo’s robotic butterflies. It also has two cameras to detect objects it wants to pick up.
“An important element for future production facilities are human assistance systems that can adjust flexibly to a wide range of production scenarios. In this respect, the technology is able to react at all times to interventions by humans and other variable parameters,” the brochure reads.
We probably won’t see FreeMotionHandling hit the production line any time soon, but aspects of it might be used in other technologies.