The Friday Fillip

When I was young and lived for a while in Washington D.C. I had a revelation about penguins. The zoo there had — may still have — a glass-walled penguin area: you saw the comic creatures shuffle like hobbled waiters, and watched as they dived into the pool — where you saw them magically turn into bullets, streamlined torpedoes of muscle that could dart and swerve and race with astonishing grace. I suspect that someone from Festo, the source of today’s fillip, must have had a similar early experience, because that company is all about understanding and reproducing the graceful movement of animals in their natural elements.

Festo is a German concern that develops products for industrial automation — robots, in effect. But no robotic dogs for them (or, thankfully, dismaying android dollies). Festo’s media are more… fluid, and they put their test creations through their paces in air and water.

Since I began with penguins, I’ll start the quick trip through the Festo bestiary with their penguins. They have two, AquaPenguin and AirPenguin. (The image you see to your right is a photograph of their robotic models, not the real thing.) The best way to appreciate the charm of these creatures and the rest I’ll list is to see them in motion on video, and so the links here will take you to either the Festo U.S. page in English, where you’ll find a prominent video link, or to a YouTube page.

Then there’s the AirJelly. That’s right: a diaphanous jellyfish that’s manoeuvered through Festo’s large airy atrium by remote control, gently flap-pumping its way, all with an air of delightful whimsy. And of course where there’s air there’s also water — at least for Festo. So there’s AquaJelly as well, equally delightful.

There are more beasts and constructs from Festo that will please you. You’ll just have to poke around in the menu for its Bionic Learning Network, whose offspring these air/water beings are. There’s a narrated film from Festo that shows some of the highlights of this testbed. If you have time to watch only one of the videos I’ve linked to, this should be your choice.

Oh, and wouldn’t it be fun to have a couple of AirJellies drifting through the halls on a Friday, bumping softly against partners’ doors and then moving on?

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