Praying for pneumatics

Not so long ago, accurately simulating the movements of an insect by mechanical means was an impossible task, not least because of the size of the body parts involved and the way they interact with one another. However, to the consternation of all those with insect phobias, Festo and Scenic Technologies have now brought a 90cm long automated Praying Mantis to life.

Scenic Technologies has created the insect to imitate the smooth and highly realistic movements of the real insect’s body. With the key criteria for the components needed to drive the insect’s head, arms and legs being reliability, ease of operation and compact dimensions, the company selected a variety of Festo miniature pneumatic cylinders and valves. With the goal of controlling movements with no visible signs of the technology, Festo’s tiny pneumatic cylinders have been integrated into the body shell and are driven by hydraulic fluid.

Driven by hydraulic fluid? Well, yes. The Festo cylinders, in common with many of the company’s actuators, if used with liquids compatible with the seals, can be used in low pressure hydraulic systems. The use of oil in this application provides additional smoothness and control over slow steady movements.

The hybrid electropneumatic / hydraulic solution allows the insect to advance and retract its head, raise and lower its upper body and even reach forward and back with its arms. This is made possible by a combination of cylinders and mechanical linkages. The fast generation of movements on command is the responsibility of a programmable logic controller, which feeds signals via a remote network to the Festo valve terminals installed in the model’s base. Pneumatic valves control the flow of compressed air into an air hydraulic reservoir and thereby the flow of the hydraulic fluid used to drive the cylinders.

The mechanical Mantis will be sold to amusement parks, museums and other places of entertainment where true-to-life simulations are required. Maybe those 1970’s sci-fi B movies where giant robotic insects rule the world weren’t so far off the mark!

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