April 8 - German engineering company Festo has unveiled its latest animal-inspired robot - a kangaroo that looks and behaves eerily like the real thing. The company has gained a reputation as a leader in proof-of-concept robotics modeled on the animal world but the bionic kangaroo is among its most sophisticated creations yet. Jim Drury reports.
It's a robot, but the BionicKangaroo is eerily similar to the real thing. Designed by German industrial engineers Festo, the machine's pneumatic actuators allow it to jump, while aborbing the shock on landing. Its artificial achilles tendon uses an elastic spring element made of rubber, which helps convert and store kinetic energy for each jump. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF FESTO'S CORPORATE BIONIC PROJECTS, ELIAS KNUBBEN, SAYING: "With this achilles tendon we are able to get energy from the landing and we can also bring this energy back for the next jump. This is what the kangaroo does and which makes it very efficient." Elias Knubben is head of Festo's corporate bionic programme and led the unveiling of the Bionic Kangaroo at the Hanover Messe trade fair. He says electric motors help it maintain balance while rechargeable lithium polymer batteries provide power. SOUNDBITE (English) HEAD OF FESTO'S CORPORATE BIONIC PROJECTS, ELIAS KNUBBEN, SAYING: "It is always a challenge to make something very light-weight on the one hand and also robust on the other side. So we used a selective laser-sintering process in combination with carbonised structures and besides this, it is also quite difficult to control movement on the kangaroo because the whole jump is only 0.3 seconds so within this very short period of time, we have to control the legs." The Bionic Kangaroo is neither a toy nor a gimmick. Knubben says it's a proof-of-concept machine that borrows from nature to advance the field of industrial automation. The company has produced robotic birds and insects in the past but Knubben says the kangaroo represents one of its biggest leaps to date.