High Concepts at Hannover

07 July 2008

Hannover is the place to come to see new technology and get immersed in new ideas.

Festo's Jelly Fish
Festo's Jelly Fish

It’s the place to get inspired with new ways of thinking about solving industrial problems. It’s the exhibit of High Concept: we have an idea to show, and it’s not for sale. Quite a number of stands reinforce this theme.

Take Festo, for example, whose Bionic Learning Network draws motion lessons from nature and adapts them to mechanisms that may someday prove useful to automation. This year’s feature in the Festo water tank was AquaJelly, an autonomous jelly fish with an electric drive and an intelligent, adaptive mechanical system. It moves with the aid of a peristaltic propulsion system, or wave-like contractions, based on the reaction thrust principle used by real jellyfish. The motion of the AquaJelly in three-dimensional environments is controlled by shifting its weight. Two servo motors integrated into the central pressure vessel actuate a swashplate which controls a four-arm pendulum which can be steered in the four spatial directions. When a pendulum moves in a certain direction, the centre of gravity of the jellyfish changes in this direction.

On the surface, AquaJelly communicates with ZigBee; underwater it uses 11 infrared LEDs to communicate with its peers. An internal pressure sensor tells its depth to within a few millimetres.

Each jellyfish decides autonomously which action to carry out on the basis of its current condition, says Festo, and this is the main point: the central electric drive, combined with an adaptive mechanical system and intelligent autonomous electronics, opens up possible new applications for self-controlling systems.

Siemens, with acres of floor space at the end of Hall 9, dazzled spectators with opera singers and equally graceful and entertaining robots on two automotive assembly lines. Away from its main stand, Beckhoff put on a mind-boggling exhibition of PC power in Hall 17.


In the middle of the Weidmüller stand was, for the first time an 11 x 4 metre walk-in module called ‘Future. Made by Weidmüller’ which depicts the company’s long-term strategy for new product development. The ‘future zone,’ said Dr. Joachim Belz, was put in place to stimulate interesting discussions and have a creative exchange of ideas with their customers—just the sort of thing Hannover Messe is famous for.

The module displayed future developments for decentralised automation. The illustrious automation pyramid, with its hierarchical networks, is seen undergoing a transformation into systems of decentralised self-sustaining networks, all communicating with one another. Weidmüller artists and engineers fill in the gaps with thematically related models and prototypes of connectors, terminal blocks and intelligent devices needed to achieve these goals.

There are also ideas for increasing productivity inside the control cabinet, which will not entirely disappear. The network of the future will be tightly interconnected with business networks and this will require a new generation of intelligent terminals, hybrid connectors, and communicating products.

One prediction that stands out: in five to ten years, the technology will be here to combine power and communication on the same conductor.

Photo caption: Convinced that fully automatic control is possible with the aid of mechatronics, Festo engineers see how far they can push their concepts by adopting ideas from nature into working models such as this jellyfish.

Photo capton: Weidmüller’s Stefan Kühn in the ‘future zone’

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