In an effort to improve the technology of bionics, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network has produced several proof-of-concept robots. Two such proofs are the AquaJelly and the AirJelly. The structure and kinematics of these projects are based on their biological model, the jellyfish. The results are nothing short of elegant. Watching these robots in action reminded me of the scene in The Abyss when the luminous quasi-mechanical jellyfish-like “NTI’s” first appeared from the deep. Festo’s Jellies are fluid and graceful. I’m sure that some practical and profitable purpose can be found for them but I’d be okay with keeping a few in a big aquarium.
AquaJelly is an artificial autonomous jellyfish with an electric drive and an intelligent, adaptive mechanical system. AquaJelly consists of a translucent hemisphere and eight tentacles used for propulsion. At the centre of the AquaJelly is a watertight, laser-sintered pressure vessel. This comprises a central, electric drive, two lithium-ion-polymer batteries, the charge control device and the servo motors for the swashplate.
AquaJelly is capable of independently controlling its own energy supply, by means of communication between the AquaJelly and a charging station. Whenever the AquaJelly comes to a charger located above the water basin, it is sucked towards it and provided with electricity. It can communicate with other robojellies and with the charger using a short-range radio standard called “ZigBee.”
The main communication medium under water, however, is light. The AquaJelly has eleven infrared light-emitting diodes with which it can communicate over distances of up to approx. 80 cm. The pulsed infrared signals are sent from inside an almost spherical structure around the AquaJelly. On receiving a position signal from an approaching jellyfish, for example, the AquaJelly can start its obstacle avoidance plan in plenty of time. In addition to environment sensors, the AquaJelly also has internal sensors which monitor its energy level, as well as a pressure sensor which allows it to gauge its depth in the basin to within a few millimeters.
Each jellyfish decides autonomously which action to carry out on the basis of its current condition. This central electric drive, combined with an adaptive mechanical system and intelligent autonomous electronics, opens up possible new applications for self-controlling systems. If a large number of AquaJellies were equipped with communicative abilities, these could act like a shoal with the behavior pattern of a more highly developed system. If one applies this principle to automation, then numerous autonomous or semi-autonomous intelligent systems might be able to work together. In this way, large problems could be solved by small systems working together in harmony.
Air is the element of the AirJelly. Rather than swimming through water like the AquaJelly, it glides through the air with the aid of its central electric drive and an intelligent, adaptive mechanical system. The remote-controlled AirJelly is kept in the air by its helium-filled ballonet.
The AirJelly steers through three-dimensional environments by shifting its weight. Its two servo motors are located at the “North pole” of the jellyfish and controlled proportionally. If the pendulum moves in one direction, the AirJelly’s center of gravity shifts in this direction – the AirJelly is thus able to swim in any spatial direction.
Festo demonstrates with this exhibit that a central electric drive – combined with an intelligent mechanical system – can offer fascinating possibilities for “lighter-than-air” aviation. Festo aims to delight its customers with innovative, fascinating and intelligent solutions in both automation and didactics. It therefore offers a wide range of electric, pneumatic and hybrid drive systems, together with the respective sensors and control possibilities.