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Elephant trunk-influenced bionic handling assistant learns like a baby

Agus Echague

The bionic handling assistant by Festo – a robotic arm influenced by the elephant’s trunk – is a proof of concept from 2010.

In 2014, the engineers used a process called ‘goal babbling’, by which it mimics the way a baby learns to grab things by continually reaching.

The robot remembers what happens to the trunk’s position when changes are made to the pressure in the tubes feeding the artificial muscles, creating a map that relates the trunk’s precise position to the pressures in each tube.

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  • Craig Ogg

    The NewScientist article referenced ( has a lot more detail and a video of the arm in action. The software that drives this version is designed to allow non-experts to teach the arm how to do tasks that would otherwise require an expert to program.

    "The trunk can now be manually forced into a series of positions and learn to adopt them on command – in other words it can now be trained to repeat actions and pluck anything from light bulbs to hazelnuts."

    • Agus Echague

      I know! HOW AWESOME IS IT!!!!???!!!!!!
      I'm mesmerised by robots!!!!

  • Alessandra Rizzotti

    Interested to know what this could be used for. I feel like this would be super effective for grabbing stuffed animals at a carnival game- but I'm wondering what the social impact angle is- not a criticism- just me trying to figure it out!

    • Agus Echague

      I understand your lack of excitement... thing is, in robotics you always start with a concept/ prototype and this is what it is. So yes, now it's only an arm that can grab an orange or a lemon... but scale that and in 5-10 years you could have a robot that learns by every movement.
      Service and personal robotics are expected to grow much more rapidly than the more mature industrial segment, which is what peeps are most familiar with.
      For example nowadays doctors are already using robotics in specialised surgeries. Some kind of robotic instrument that they can control from outside the body can cause the patient less pain and recovery time than having the surgeon completely open them up.
      The applications of robotics in areas like health, education, and even social change are infinite... The only problem is the future doesn't come fast enough! :D
      So let's wait and see how this mechanical elephant trunk becomes a cost efficient water digging machine in a developing country, a doctor's aid or just the arm of your super techy butler.... ;)

      • Ben Goldhirsh

        yup. pretty impressed with what's afoot in this area. was at the TED conference last week and got to see some stuff especially in the area of bionics that was pretty mind blowing. it shall be an interesting decade ahead indeed!

        • Agus Echague

          That's epic Ben! Was there a particular talk on it? If so, could you share it? Thanks!

      • Alessandra Rizzotti

        Definitely love your thoughts on this. You expanded my mind, Ms. Agus!

        • Agus Echague

          That's what GOOD is all about Ms Ale! :)