Print-Logo Deutscher Zukunftspreis

Winner 2010

Vorbild Elefantenrüssel

Modeled on an Elephant’s Trunk - A High-tech Helper for Industry and the Home

Dr.-Ing. Peter Post (Spokesperson)
Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Fischer
Dipl.-Ing. Andrzej Grzesiak*
Festo AG & Co. KG., Esslingen
*Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA, Stuttgart

(f.l.t.r.) Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Fischer, Dr.-Ing. Peter Post, Dipl.-Ing. Andrzej Grzesiak

Robots are used in industry to perform heavy work or monotonous or hazardous tasks – and thus relieve their human counterparts. However, these mechanical workers cannot cooperate with humans as a team. Machines are still too awkward and insensitive. A new generation of mechatronic assistants, however, is to become real helpers – and over and above possible applications in industry provide assistance to the ill or infirm. How can this vision be made reality?

Dr.-Ing. Peter Post, Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Fischer and Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Andrzej Grzesiak found the answer to this question in Nature: Using the principle of bionics, the researchers applied natural design principles to an assistance system, evolving them to create a unique handling system with almost human agility, dexterity, and flexibility – light, free-moving and compliant. It can assist humans safely. Peter Post heads the research and development project at Festo; Markus Fischer is responsible for the company’s corporate design – and established the Festo Bionic Learning Network in 2006 in which the company and universities together implement technical concepts modeled on nature. Andrzej Grezsiak is the cooperation partner for the project and head of the Generative Manufacturing group at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA.

The prototype of the “Bionic Handling Assistant” which the three nominated scientists developed resembles an elephant’s trunk. It consists of an artificial trunk, a hand axis and a gripper with three fingers.

 Its astonishing flexibility is unique. The fingers adapt automatically to every object grasped, and the gripper is able to finely adjust the amount of force exerted on the object. The movements of the artificial appendages are pneumatically controlled by a sophisticated system. Thanks to its extraordinary sensitivity, the mechanical assistant can handle raw eggs, tomatoes or a glass of water with just as much care as animals or humans.

The adaptability of the innovative robotic arm is due to its extremely lightweight design made possible by a 3D printing process which the developers used to manufacture the entire handling assistant, including the gripper and all moving parts. In this process, thin layers in powder form are applied layer for layer to form a flexible plastic and melted with the aid of a laser. This allowed Peter Post, Markus Fischer and Andrzej Grzesiak to avoid complex assembly processes as well as heavy component parts. The prototype of the Bionic Handling Assistant is a design for assistance systems intended to support the elderly and the infirm in their daily lives – for example, by handing them or retrieving foods, drinks or medications. Seniors would thus be given the means to remain living in their own four walls independently and thus have a better quality of life. Other possible applications are found agriculture and industry – for example, in the sorting of flower bulbs, picking fruit, or as part of a milking plant. The Bionic Handling Assistant finds areas of applications as helps for industrial tasks in places which are difficult to access for humans – as assembly hand or during maintenance and cleaning work.

The three nominees developed the innovative mechanical assistant within the framework of Festo’s Bionic Learning Network. The first prototype debuted in 2010. The Festo company hopes to continue its development for various products and thereby enter the promising market for service systems. The light weight of the artificial trunk also opens up great potential in industrial handling technologies. Since there are no heavy parts to be moved, it uses considerably less electrical power than its conventional robotic colleagues.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent on leading German institutions in Science and Industry as well as foundations.

The project “Modeled on an Elephant’s Trunk – A High-tech Helper for Industry and the Home” was nominated by acatech – The German Academy of Science and Engineering.

more details


Dr.-Ing. Peter Post

Dr.-Ing. Peter Post

geboren in Haiger/Hessen
1975 – 1978
Facharbeiterausbildung zum Werkzeugmacher
1980 – 1984
Studium Allgemeiner Maschinenbau an der Universität Siegen, Siegen
Diplomarbeit, Thema: Interaktive Lösungsverfahren nichtlinearer Vektoroptimierungsprobleme aus der Strukturmechanik
1984 – 1989
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, Institut für Mechanik und Regelungstechnik an der Universität Siegen, Forschungschwerpunkt "Strukturoptimierung von Large-Scale- Systemen"
Promotion, Thema: Optimierung von Verbundbauweisen unter Berücksichtigung des zeitabhängigen Materialverhaltens
1989 – 1991
Forschungsingenieur, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen
1991 – 1995
Leiter Computer Aided Engineering, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen
1995 – 2008
Leiter Forschung, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen
Seit 2009
Leiter Research and Programme Strategy, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen

Weitere Tätigkeiten:

Vorsitzender des Forschungsfond des VDMA Fachverbands Fluidtechnik
Stellvertretender Aufsichtsratsvorsitzender Hahn Schickard Gesellschaft, Stuttgart
Member of the Board EFFRA - European Factory of the Future Research Association
Sprecher Manufuture Germany, Technologieplattform Manufuture


Alfred Schaber Medaille der Universität Siegen

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Fischer

Dipl.-Ing. (FH) Markus Fischer

geboren in Kirchheim unter Teck, Baden-Württemberg
Realschulabschluss, Realschule Weilheim a. d. Teck
1983 – 1986
Ausbildung zum Werkzeugmacher, Firma Kammerer, Holzmaden
1986 – 1988
Fachgebundene Hochschulreife, Technische Oberschule Stuttgart
1988 – 1989
Grundwehrdienst, Panzergrenadierbataillon 282, Dornstadt
1989 – 1991
Studium der Holztechnik, Fachhochschule Rosenheim
1991 – 1996
Studium der Architektur, Fachhochschule Augsburg
Diplomarbeit: „Systemstudie wohnen“ in Kooperation mit dem Institut für Biologie und Umwelt GmbH von Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Frederic Vester in München
1996 – 1997
Freie Mitarbeit im Büro für Gestaltung Prof. Eberhard Stauß und Ursula Wangler, München
1998 – 2000
Gesellschafter im Planungs- und Gestaltungsbüro Baldauf & Fischer, Baienfurt, Baden-Württemberg
2000 – 2001
Gestalter, Büro Uebele, visuelle Kommunikation, Stuttgart
2001 – 2005
Corporate Designer Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen
Seit 2006
Leiter Corporate Design, Festo AG & Co. KG, Esslingen


Red Dot Award
Type Directors Club New York
DDC Silber
ISTD, International TypoGraphic Award London
Art Directors Club New York
Art Directors Club Berlin
IF Award
Chicago Athenaeum Award
Red Dot Award
Design Management Award Europe
Invention Award, Festo AG
Designpreis der Bundesrepublik Deutschland

Dipl.-Ing. Andrzej Grzesiak

Dipl.-Ing. Andrzej Grzesiak

geboren in Wroclaw (Breslau), Polen
Abitur, Elektroniczne Naukowe ELWRO Wrocław (Polen)
1992 – 1994
Studium der Elektrotechnik an der Technischen Universität Wroclaw (Polen)
1994 – 2003
Studium der Elektrotechnik an der Universität Stuttgart
Diplom Thema: Analysis of the applicability of SQMA to fault analysis
2003 – 2006
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter am Institut für Industrielle Fertigung und Fabrikbetrieb (IFF) der Universität Stuttgart
Seit 2006
Gruppenleiter am Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA in Stuttgart
Seit 2008
Sprecher der Fraunhofer-Allianz Generative Fertigung

Weitere Tätigkeiten:

Germany representative of The Global Alliance of Rapid Prototyping Associations (GARPA)
Management-Board der Europäischen Rapid Manufacturing Platform (Additive Manufacturing) und Koordination der Deutschen Rapid Manufacturing Plattform
Mitglied des VDI Fachausschusses Rapid Prototyping /Rapid Manufacturing



Dr. Peter Post
Leiter Research and Programme Strategy
Festo AG & Co. KG
Ruiter Straße 82
73734 Esslingen
Tel.: +49 (0) 711 / 34 73 144
Fax: +49 (0) 711 / 34 75 44 078


Paul Kho
Leiter Technical Corporate Communication
Festo AG & Co. KG
Abteilung CC-T
Ruiter Straße 82
73734 Esslingen
Tel.: +49 (0) 711 / 34 74 078
Mobil: +49 (0) 173 / 31 93 795
Fax: +49 (0) 711 / 347 54 – 40 78

Dipl.-Wirt.-Ing. (FH) Axel Storz
Fraunhofer-Institut für Produktionstechnik und Automatisierung IPA
Presse und Öffentlichkeitsarbeit, Marketing
Nobelstr. 12
70569 Stuttgart
Tel.: +49 (0) 711 / 97 03 660
Fax: +49 (0) 711 / 97 01 400
Mobil: +49 (0) 172 / 71 48 542

A description provided by the institutes and companies regarding their nominated projects

A look at the latest technical developments in private and industrial domains clearly reveals that these developments will only be considered innovations and accepted by the market when they effectively combine an affordable price, user friendliness, and new technological principles.

Considering technologies are playing an ever more important role in our lives and the increasing use of technology in our lives, the time has come to take a close look at the new constellations of man and technology in all its complexity. The greatest potential is in the cooperation between humans and technology, which provides a platform on which to perform pioneering research on the efficient interaction of man and machine. The ever more important field of health research is also looking for systems which use technology to enable independent, self-determined life.

Taking inspiration from nature, Festo has developed the Bionic Handling Assistant modeled on an elephant’s trunk. It is an adaptable assistance system that allows man and machine to interact effectively as a team and without risk. What makes the Bionic Handling Assistant system so unique is its safe and compliant behavior. Conventional systems and industrial robots are not compliant. They are designed for stiffness, resulting in heavy configurations that are not entirely without danger for the operator. Contact between man and robot is only possible with permanently installed safety devices such as protective screens or the use of costly shielding.

The Bionic Handling Assistant is a pioneering step towards identifying practical applications which improve the quality of life for people in all stages of life. The merging of new technologies and the social environment can pave the way for handling assistant systems used in industry and the private home – and on terms that are well below the price segment of conventional handling systems and robots.

The project was developed within the framework of Festo’s Bionic Learning Network. The Bionic Learning Network is group of affiliated universities, institutes and development companies dedicated to applying bionics, i.e. transferring principles of biology to technology, to produce leading-edge technologies. With bionics, automatic sequences of motion can be designed to be even more energy efficient and productive, providing industry with innovative solutions to be put into practice. Drawing on nature, the focus is on effective principles that “follow the model of nature”.

The Bionic Handling Assistant: a combination of numerous cross-functional technologies
The engineers and designers at Festo and the Fraunhofer IPA make use of new generative manufacturing technologies combined with mechatronics, handling technologies and bionics. They are at the foundation of the innovative design of the Bionic Handling Assistant which is similar in function to that of an elephant’s trunk. The project was based on the development of pneumatic lightweight structures by Professor Dieter Mankau at the Offenbach Academy of Art and Design (HfG). The Bionic Handling Assistant’s configuration was based on this design, consisting of three basic elements for spatial movement, along with a hand axis and a gripper with adaptive fingers.

Together these technological advantages offer an innovative potential that can be used as an autonomous assistance system. A similar project entitled Ambient Assisted Living (AAL) is currently being conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) which is referred to in Germany’s high-tech strategy 2020. The focus of the project includes health research in particular and promotes systems that will simplify autonomous living through the use of technology. These aids will require assistance systems which are absolutely user-friendly and can thus be safely integrated directly in living environments.

The Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Europe’s largest application-oriented research organization, identified direct contact between man and technology as a leading field of innovation as early as 2003. Research focuses on the complex interaction of human and technical change. Considering technologies are playing an ever more important role in our lives and the increasing use of technology in our everyday existence, it is time to take a close look at the innovative constellations of man and technology in all its complexity. Technological innovations like the Bionic Handling Assistant push research in Ambient Assisted Living and envision the duet of “Man and Technology” as a team with a future.

There is great potential in industry to integrate the Bionic Handling Assistant in automation and production technology as a handling system to assist assembly. Areas of application include inspection and quality assurance, for example of machine frames, or also maintenance and cleaning tasks in areas difficult to access, but in which the Bionic Handling Assistant can make use of its advantages because of its free maneuverability. The Bionic Handling Assistant can also provide valuable services in preventive maintenance.

Compliance due to compressed air – Safe interaction between man and machine
The unique selling proposition of the Bionic Handling Assistant is its safe flexible and compliant behavior. Flexibility in this case is defined both as the structure – specifically, the material and design – as well as control and actuation. The mechanical structure of the Bionic Handling Assistant is flexible and can be programmed to execute a defined motion in space. Even in the event of a collision or a malfunction, the Bionic Handling Assistant poses no risk to persons, objects or individuals in its environment.

The compliant behavior is determined by the system’s pneumatics since air is compressible medium. This drive technology is thus predestined to achieve closer cooperation between man and machine. Compressed air moves the structure and the grippers. The function of the grippers is based on the bionic Fin Ray Effect® of Leif Kniese (Evologics GmbH). The fingers of the gripper adapt to the contour of the object to be grasped while exerting lateral pressure, thereby fixing the hold on similarly sized parts. Given the state of the art, other industrial grippers cannot guarantee their grasp of dissimilar objects because of their rigid mechanisms and hard materials.

Lightweight design with generative manufacturing technologies
The key word is manufacture: by using the latest findings in generative manufacturing technology, additional innovative features become available for the Bionic Handling Assistant. Additive manufacturing is used to produce customized, movable system parts made of polyamide applied in thin layers to a substrate during production. Every layer is fused with the layer below using a laser and only hardens in the areas defined by the control program. This enables 3D printing of sophisticated product geometries.

The result is lightweight flexible structures capable of exerting ample force. Another advantage: these sophisticated systems are produce without extravagant assembly processes and expensive tool costs. The high flexibility and low density of the polyamide at only 0.95 gm per cubic centimeter are ideal for the optimal strength to weight ratio of the Bionic Handling Assistant. Its entire body including the grippers is produced using additive manufacturing.

In future, generative manufacturing technologies will enable customized and sustainable manufacturing of sophisticated products due to its high flexibility and low resource consumption – even in process chain in which a large number of integrated functions is required. This technology paved the way for the cooperation between Festo and the Fraunhofer IPA on the development of the Bionic Handling Assistant.

Partnership between Festo and Fraunhofer IPA
Festo has been chiefly responsible for the development and design of the Bionic Handling Assistant. To complement their own core competence the Festo team enlisted the support of generative manufacturing experts from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA as partner. The team was able to utilize the expertise of Fraunhofer IPA in the area of rapid manufacturing, particularly for the development of the expansion bellows.

As a system provider of automation technology, Festo’s Bionic Handling Assistant is a prototype that virtually triggers industrial applications in assembly support. The evolution curve of a classic handling system starts with a standard linear axis, finds its continuation over the space portal and the classic tripod to the bionic tripod. This now culminates in the Bionic Handling Assistant with its compliant handling kinematics and highly innovative individual components – grippers, control and actuation –.

About Festo
Festo is a leading international supplier of automation technology. With its innovations and problem-solving expertise in the field of pneumatics and electronics, the company has established itself as the performance leader in its sector. Festo’s innovative strength is demonstrated by over 100 new products which it launches every year and the 2,900 patents it holds worldwide. Its new approach to product development using bionics and biomechatronics within the framework of the Bionic Learning Network, represents a true first in the field of automation technology.

About Fraunhofer IPA
The research and development focus of the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA is on organizational and technological tasks related to production. Since 2005, the institute has been aiding partners and clients both in the planning and design of new products as well as the redesigning and optimization of existing product lines using generative manufacturing processes.

The right to nominate outstanding achievements for the Deutscher Zukunftspreis is incumbent upon leading German institutions in Science and Industry as well as foundations.

The project “Modeled on an Elephant’s Trunk – A High-tech Helper for Industry and the Home” was nominated by acatech – The German Academy of Science and Engineering.

Nominee 2010 · TEAM 3