HANNOVER MESSE 2019, 01 - 05 April
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Research & Technology

Bionics – When Robots Learn to Crawl

From ultra-light algae structures to the elastic wings of a flying fox: At HANNOVER MESSE 2018, visitors see the latest innovations in bionics and discover how nature can advance technology and make it more sustainable.

02 May. 2018

Nature is millions of years ahead of technology. Every organism has evolved perfectly to adapt to its environment and developed qualities that serve as a model for new innovations. One only has to recognize it and figure out how to use it in technology. Welcome to bionics – where biology and technology connect.

There a huge range of exhibitors in this area at HANNOVER MESSE, especially in the Research & Technology space in Hall 2. In this area, there are seven companies and research institutes dedicated to bionic technology.

BIOKON: Algae-like Structures and Turtle Robots

The Alfred Wegener Institute researches the biological structures of algae to develop materials of the future.

How can fragile technology quickly glide through water without sustaining damage? How can you create structures that are extremely lightweight and as strong as possible at the same time? These are questions that researchers and companies in the BIOKON research network are looking to answer. Among these are three universities, three companies, and two research institutes, including the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and the Bremen University of Applied Sciences. The latter are optimizing underwater robots by focusing on the robust shells of turtles and mimicking the fins of trout fish to improve propulsion.

The Alfred Wegener Institute is concentrating on the exoskeletons of single-cell sea algae or diatoms. The structures they possess are ten times as strong as construction steel. Together with the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the Alfred Wegener Institute was able to use x-ray holography to visualize the algae into the nanometer range. These findings are being used to develop environmentally friendly and extremely durable materials.

FESTO Wants to Inspire with Bionic Technology

The BionicWheelBot from FESTO. Source: HANNOVER MESSE

One exhibitor stand is a must-see for anyone interested in bionics at HANNOVER MESSE: the automation specialist, FESTO. The company from Esslingen am Neckar, Germany, is investing heavily into the development of innovative drive concepts and motion sequences. The results produce a spectacular showcase: Robotic flying foxes flap through the air, artificial spiders scuttle around in glass boxes, and fish-like creatures swim in aquariums.

FESTO’s innovations are accessible for students in a special way. The company produces construction kits for schools to get children excited about technology. The basis of these are actually former bionics projects from the company. Using a fish, a chameleon, and an elephant trunk, the kits teach students how movement and gripping work in terms of technology. “Typically, students are not so enthusiastic about microcontrollers and servomotors. But when they recognize the link to nature in these mechanisms, it acts as a gateway into the technical subjects,” says Simone Schmid, corporate communications specialist at FESTO.

Nature and Technology Become One: German Bionic

A visitor tests out the CRAY X exoskeleton from German Bionic.

Another area of bionics is the development of active and passive exoskeletons. German Bionic has developed a system that harnesses Industrie 4.0 to help people life heavy loads. Sensors installed in its CRAY X system detects the angle of inclination of the upper body and transmits signals to motors and drive gears. This automatically adjusts compression pressure to relieve the lower-back area of the wearer in real time.

The exoskeleton is easy to put on, can be fine-tuned using a smartwatch on the user’s wrist, and provides support of up to 100 newton meters. An electromyography bracelet measures tension in the arm to immediately recognize when the wearer wants to move an object. This makes sure it does not hinder movement.