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Modular robots were inspired by nature
Festo is developing a programmable robotic system formed from a series of cube-shaped modules which can be attached to each other in any direction, in a similar way to chemical molecules. In the Molecube system, the two halves of each cube rotate about an axis defined by two diagonally opposite corners. Linking several cubes together allows an almost unlimited number of different shapes and movements. The end modules can incorporate grippers, cameras or drive shafts. When a new module is added, this is communicated to all of the other cubes to ensure that the energy supply and the transmission of signals from one cube to another are maintained.
The 66mm-long cubes, each weighing around 200g and capable of producing 4.85Nm of torque, can rotate continuously at up to 17 times per minute. They communicate internally via wired connections at up to 1Mb/s, and externally via Bluetooth and USB. Wireless data transmission allows assemblies of the cubes to be replicated in models running on PCs. In the next phase of development, Festo wants to integrate the mechanical and electronic elements more closely, with the aim of producing even smaller cubes.
It may be a while before we see Molecubes on the factory floor, but in the meantime Festo has a wealth of robotic solutions available, from systems built around multiple guided axes to a high speed, high capacity tripod robot that is said to be up to three times faster than cartesian systems while requiring less space. It is ideal for handling parts weighing up to 5kg.
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