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By Design Engineering Staff   

General MapleSim Proto Labs

Festo’s AquaPenguin outperforms nature

In April, Festo unveiled its latest robotic animal, the AquaPenguin. A project of the company’s Bionic Learning Network, the eerily real penguins are designed as autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) that independently orient themselves and navigate through water.


To steer the robot and create it’s life-like movement, the AquaPenguin’s head, neck and tail segments are based on the company’s new 3D Fin Ray structure that mimics a fish’s tail movement. The bending structure consists of flexible longitudinal struts with circumferential connecting elements that maintain the shape of the elastic skin.

Steering is controlled via the longitudinal struts and mechanically linked draw lines, with small digital actuators for horizontal and vertical movement. For propulsion, an electric motor controls the flapping frequency of the robot’s wings, which are individually rotatable to assist with manoeuvring and also allow the AquaPenguin to swim backwards.

To get their bearings, the AquaPenguins are fitted with a 3D sonar sensor, which lets them determine their spatial position, measure distances from walls, avoid collisions and navigate autonomously. In addition, the penguins can be fitted with a separate pressure sensor for operation at greater depths.

Similar to Festo’s other bionic projects, the AquaPenguin demonstrates technology the company is developing for its automation business. The penguins’ torso design, for example, can be used in automation for flexible tripods. The company says its BionicTripod has a wide operating range that could be used for pick-and-place applications with offsets of up to 90 degrees.

Proto Labs turns 10

Proto Labs, Inc., a provider of quick-turn CNC machining and injection molding, celebrated its tenth anniversary in May. Established in 1999, Proto Labs began business as Protomold with a mandate to reduced the lead time and cost to manufacture custom prototype and low-volume production parts. The company says it achieved this through the application of proprietary software and automated manufacturing systems.

Over the last decade, the company says it has created 22,000 molds and produced 24 million parts. Today, the company has 300 employees working in five offices worldwide with manufacturing locations in Maple Plain, Minnesota; Telford, England; and Tokyo, Japan.

In February, the company announced that it had expanded its U.S. export management system to support international requests for its First Cut CNC machining service. As a result, Proto Labs offers two services (First Cut and Protomold) in the US, Canada, Europe and Japan. Both services, the company says, can ship parts in as little as one business day.


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