The Bionic Handling Assistant from Festo is a robotic arm that can easily move and grip objects without endangering humans.


  • Safe
  • Lightweight
  • Flexible


  • Factories

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 9: Industry Innovation & Infrastructure

The Challenge

Working in factories often requires being near machines, which can be dangerous for employees. Oftentimes the robots have to be shielded to prevent damage, which can limit mobility and productivity. In addition, many machines are heavy and rigid, further limiting the range and type of activities they can perform.

Innovation Details

The Bionic Handling Assistant is a robotic arm that was inspired by the wide range of motion and gripping ability of the elephant’s trunk. The Handling Assistant is comprised of three interconnected segments that are used to move, and the ‘gripper’ at the end is used to grip and pick up objects. The robotic arm moves because chambers inside the arm fill with compressed air, allowing for a wide range of movement while still being lightweight (the whole arm only weights 5 lbs). The chambers work with sensors within the arm to precisely control movements. The gripper is comprised of three ‘claws’ that can mold to the shape of an object, making it easier to pick up and hold objects.


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Biological Model

The trunk of an elephant is highly dynamic, able to not only move in a variety of directions but also able to do so with immense strength and precision. It does this without the skeletal support or fluid displacement throughout the muscle. Instead, the trunk is made up of an incompressible “fluid” (i.e., about 40,000 tightly packed muscle fibers) that maintains its volume to remain constant through a variety of movements.