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Audiences are shaken by the performance of fluidic muscles

Audiences are shaken by the performance of fluidic muscles
Simworx, a specialist supplier of 4D effects theatres and simulation attractions, has chosen to base the innovative dynamic seat modules for its new Dimensions range of effects theatres on Festo fluidic muscles. The seats bring an unprecedented degree of experiential realism to 3D movies by subjecting occupants to a wide variety of movements, synchronised to the film being shown. Optional built-in effects include leg ticklers, air-blast and water spray functions. Never let it be said that today's cinematic experience is merely visual.

Based in Kingswinford, West Midlands, Simworx has grown to become a world leader in the design, manufacture and supply of fixed-site and mobile 4D effects theatres and simulation attractions. The company has more than 600 installations worldwide, including a large number of space, aeronautical and science museums in the UK and USA, and many of the leading theme parks in Europe. Its customer base also includes a considerable number of prestigious blue chip companies and organisations.

The seats for Simworx' latest Dimensions range of effects theatres are based on a modular design, incorporating all the motion control actuators in a shallow, floor-standing plinth that supports four individual seats. There are two basic models: the Dimensions 4D seats feature backwards drop and vibration functions, while the Dimensions 5D models add forwards/backwards tilt, left-right tilt and vertical drop functions to the list of effects. The headrest of each seat can optionally be equipped with fully-integrated air-blast and water spray capabilities, and to complete the picture, the pedestal of each seat can be fitted with a pneumatically-powered leg tickler.

Over the years, Simworx has employed a variety of actuators from different manufacturers for its dynamic effects seats. Most of these have been pneumatic, since this type of technology is cost-effective, inherently safe, and offers a much higher power density than electric actuators - making it easier to integrate into the body of the seat. During the development of its latest Dimensions series seats, Simworx became aware of Festo's fluidic muscles; these are a unique form of pneumatic actuator resulting from Festo's bionic concepts research programme, which have now been commercialised and are available as standard industrial products. Fluidic muscles are tensile actuators which mimic their biological counterparts by contracting when fed with compressed air. They are capable of exceptionally fast and smooth operation, as well as slow, jolt-free movement, and can generate an initial force some ten times higher than a conventional pneumatic actuator of the same diameter.

Simworx Director Andy Roberts says: "I first became aware of Festo's fluidic muscles when I attended a technology showcase event at the company's HQ in Northampton. It was immediately apparent that the muscles are considerably better than conventional pneumatic actuators for simulator-type applications like ours. They provide excellent dynamic performance, and have a much higher power density. We have just installed our new Dimensions seats in Manchester Science Museum and are currently putting the finishing touches to a system for an indoor theme park on Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier. I envisage we'll be making increasing use of this technology in the future."

Simworx chose to use the most powerful, 40mm diameter, versions of Festo's latest-generation DMSP series fluidic muscles for the new Dimensions seats. These muscles employ press-fitted connections to minimise size and weight. Each four-seat plinth module contains four DMSP fluidic muscles (one in each corner) together with four manifold-mounted Festo VPPM proportional pressure regulators, and a control unit. The VPPMs use an innovative cascaded dual-stage regulator, designed specifically to provide a very easy and precise means of varying the flow rate to pneumatic actuators. The compressed air supply is generated outside the theatre to minimise noise interference, and is distributed to each seat module via a 'pneumatic ring main'; the exhausted air is released locally, via high-efficiency Festo silencers.

The control unit in each Dimensions seat module employs fieldbus for communication with the system's host control PC. Special event triggers contained within the film being shown instruct the central controller to issue appropriate signals to all the seat modules in the theatre simultaneously, resulting in the entire audience experiencing exactly the same effect - be it pitch, rock, vibrate or sudden drop - at the same time. 'Shaken not stirred' has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning.
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