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Elaphantine Festo robotic arm gets taught a few new tricks

German researchers have developed a way of
training a flexible robot to learn movements by “goal babbling”.

German automation company Festo’s Bionic
Handling Assistant was originally released in 2010, and based on an elephant’s
trunk, with a high level of strength yet able to perform delicate tasks. The
Assistant is made up of 3D printed segments forming its “trunk”, controlled by
pneumatic tube “muscles”.

New Scientist reports that Dr Matthias Rolf
and Professor Jochem Steil, from Bielefeld University, have found a way to
improve the ability of these robots, which did not originally have precision
control software.

Using “goal babbling”, similar to the way
babies learn movement, the researchers have developed a way to train the robot
arms, so that after being manipulated into a series of positions, these are
remembered and can be repeated autonomously.

“…the robot remembers what happens to the
trunk’s position when tiny changes are made to the pressure in the thin
pneumatic tubes feeding the artificial muscles,” according to New Scientist.

“This creates a map that relates the trunk’s precise position to the pressures
in each tube.”

Festo’s arms were originally developed to
make robots safer for working alongside people in factories, and were developed
in cooperation with the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and

Reports of the arms have sometimes featured comparisons to the octopus-like Doctor Octavius from Spiderman.

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