Festo TechTalk – what we learned

The Hannover Messe 2019 trade fair will be held under the motto “Integrated Industry – Industrial Intelligence” – fitting when you think how artificial intelligence and human-machine cooperation are the major topics of the automation of the future.

The recent Festo TechTalk sought to discuss the potential and opportunities offered by artificial intelligence, and how the company would position itself within this context.

Will automation become autonomous thanks to artificial intelligence?
This question was put forward by Dionysios Satikidis, a software engineer and expert in artificial intelligence, in his opening presentation. He used the example of newborn babies to explain various learning methods in artificial intelligence that can ultimately lead to autonomy. Babies first of all perceive objects, and this enables them to recognise differences – which is exactly what algorithms can do in machine learning, for example when recognising anomalies or clusters.

When systems also remember what they perceive, this is known as deep learning. They can then recognise objects or understand speech. If this memory is connected with a task and practised, one then speaks of reinforcement learning. In this case, it involves learning a skill.

“Once artificial intelligence finally becomes capable of transferring acquired knowledge to unknown tasks, we will have arrived at transfer learning, which in the final stage can lead to autonomous automation,” said the expert with a view to the future.

Intelligent process monitoring
Artificial intelligence has been made usable to industry by Tanja Krüger, Managing Director & Owner of Resolto Informatik GmbH (a company of the Festo Group since 2018). This theoretical computer scientist, a pioneer in the field of data analytics, founded Resolto in 2003. Visitors to the booth of Festo at the Hannover Messe can see how the intelligent monitoring software SCRAITEC analyses and interprets data, and detects and reports anomalies, all in real time. The permanent data analysis also enables the system to constantly learn and extend its basis of knowledge, so that intelligent process monitoring is possible.

“In Hanover we will be demonstrating how our software works in a showcase for the detection of faulty batteries. The batteries are lifted by a handling gantry. SCRAITEC monitors the engine currents and positional values of the axis. If anomalies occur, for example if the handling unit grasps the wrong battery format, a report is issued,” said Tanja Krüger.

AI will enormously influence the product portfolio of Festo
“The acquisition and monitoring of data by the intelligent software solution can either be effected at the component, as with the handling of batteries, or be carried out via the IoT gateway CPX-IoT in the Festo cloud. It connects components and modules from the field level, such as handling systems or electrical drives, via its OPC UA interface to the Festo Cloud,” added Dr Frank Melzer, Member of the Management Board Product and Technology Management.

“The topics of analytics and artificial intelligence will enormously influence our product portfolio in future. For simple analysis tasks, AI algorithms can run directly on the component in real time; we then speak of field level or on-edge. If I want to analyse the data flows of an entire machinery unit or even a production hall, the processing power within the component will of course not be sufficient. The servers for the more complex calculations can be integrated into the production network. The advantage: my data remain within my protected infrastructure and are not communicated via the Internet. It is only in the processing of very large volumes of data with complex analyses and reference series that communication with the cloud is necessary and appropriate.”

Taking inspiration from the marine planarian, cuttlefish and Nile perch, the BionicFinWave uses the same undulating fin movement to manoeuvre through a pipe system made of acrylic glass. At the same time the autonomous underwater robot is able to communicate with the outside world wirelessly and transmit data – such as the recorded sensor values for temperature and pressure – to a tablet.

The BionicFinWave uses its two side fins to move along. They are completely cast from silicone and do without struts or other support elements, making them extremely flexible and thus able to implement the fluid wave movements of their biological role models true to nature.

For this purpose, the two fins on the left and right are each fastened to nine small lever arms. These in turn are driven by two servo motors located in the body of the underwater robot. Two attached crankshafts transfer the force to the levers in such a way that the two fins can move individually. They can thereby generate different wave patterns, which are particularly suitable for a slow and precise movement and whirl up water less than a conventional screw drive does, for example.

In order to swim in a curved line, for example, the outer fin moves faster than the inner one – similar to the chains on a digger. A third servo motor on the head of the BionicFinWave controls the flexure of the body, which helps it to swim up and down. So that the crankshafts are suitably flexible and supple, a cardan joint is fitted between each lever segment. For this purpose, the crankshafts including the joints and the connecting rod were made out of a single piece of plastic with the 3D printing method.

The remaining elements in the BionicFinWave’s body are also 3D-printed. With their cavities, they act as flotation units. At the same time, the entire control and regulation technology system is installed safely and watertight here in the smallest of spaces and coordinated. Thus, besides the circuit board with processor and remote module, the front of the body also houses a pressure sensor and ultrasound sensors. They constantly measure the distances to the walls as well as the depth in the water, thus preventing collisions with the pipe system.

With the bionic technology platform, Festo’s Bionic Learning Network is once again creating impetus for the future work with autonomous robots and new drive technologies used in liquid media. It would be conceivable to develop concepts like the BionicFinWave further for tasks like inspections, measuring sequences or data collections – for instance for water and sewage technology, or other areas in the process industry. In addition, the knowledge gained during the project can be used for the manufacturing methods of soft-robotics components.