Contender For World’s Most Unsettling Drone?

We’re not sure what FESTO is advertising with their odd flying beach ball. Amongst inspirational music it gently places its translucent appendage over a water bottle and then engulfs it with an unsettling plastic sound. With a high pitched whine it hovers away with its prey and deposits it in the hand of a thirsty business man, perhaps as a misguided nurturing instinct.

Despite discovering a new uncanny valley, the robot is pretty cool. It appears to a be a hybrid airship/helicopter on a small-scale. The balloon either zeros out the weight of the robot or provides slightly more lift. It’s up to the propellers to provide the rest.

We like the carbon fiber truss around the drone. It’s a really slick build with barely an untamed wire. This seems like a much safer design than a quadcopter for indoor flying. If its end effector wasn’t so creepy it would be even cooler. Video after the break.

28 thoughts on “Contender For World’s Most Unsettling Drone?

    1. I don’t know if I want to drink a bottle of water that just made sweet, sweet love to a balloon drone but if upgraded, made larger it could be used as a docking “vagina” for a full sized airship.

  1. Could do without the cheezy muzak and dry ice effect. And I’m utterly sick of seeing blue LEDs on stuff. 20 years ago they were a new thing, now every shitty e-cig has one. Anyway…

    The grabber looks like an ovipositor, or a weird external vagina. It is very creepy to see it suck up the bottle like that! Freud would get a new textbook out of interviewing the guy whose idea that was.

    1. If you put a blue filter on your camera, blue LED points of light are easy to detect in the video stream. Few other things would have blue LEDs, so this would reduce potential confusion with other light sources.

      So his makes an easy way to find the object for position and orientation.

      Or maybe it’s just a different culture, and blue LEDs aren’t viewed as stilted and trite like they are here in the US.

      You might want to check out the “fundamental attribution error”. You might find it enlightening.

    2. Well, blue is FESTO’s corporate identity colour – so they are a bit limited there.
      But yes, you’re right, blue LEDs are widely overused and an eyesore.
      Freud would also be interested in the people being afraid of things looking (vaguely) like female reproductive body parts.

  2. It is rather disturbing but clever….

    There was some kind of similar grabber was it featured in make magazine recently . It was like a ballon filled with sand and as air was sucked out it grabbed onto irregular objects.

  3. If the “grabber” in this post seems, odd, consider Festo’s chameleon-tongue grabber in the following article. Festo’s larger trajectory in biomimetics is worth looking at, if on the for the rare instance of an otherwise mundane components supplier taking an exemplary leap into creative research projects.

    “Large German firms, particularly family owned concerns like Festo, owe much of their success to their ability to marry the immediate demands of the business with a more speculative, longer term approach that creates the freedom to innovate. Festo’s bionics work is perhaps one of the most striking examples of this in action.”

    1. They say that art can be interpreted two ways: emotionally and intellectually. I think this project achieves high marks in both categories.

      Intellectually, I really got caught up in the mechanics of the system. The inflated ball can be rotated within the gantry, which means that multiple grips could be deployed. (The gripper is universal, but probably needs different sizes for different-sized objects.) A gantry could detatch from the ball and go pick up a different ball.

      Energy wise, I assume the ball is filled with helium or hot air to be neutrally buoyant. That means the ‘coptors only need to lift the gripped object.

      Even if it’s only air, the sheer size of the balloon reduces the response time for the control system by a yuuuge amount – which makes control in general, and fine control in particular, much easier.

      I immediately got to thinking how easy it would be to make the gantry – it’s just spot-welded wires. That and a few ‘coptor kits would give you all the hardware you need.

      Cameras and image-based recognition and control are extra. Perhaps that’s why blue LEDs are used – with a blue filter on the camera, it’s easy to recognize tiny blue dots on the image to detect position/attitude.

      That’s part of the intellectual side that hit me in the first 10 minutes of one showing…

      On the emotional side, many people have pointed out the eerieness of the pneumatic gripper, and its similarities to unsettling imagery in many other works of fiction. It only lacks a slime trail to be truly disgusting, and missing that feature you know *intellectually* that the bottle is clean, but *emotionally* it still seems yucky.

      The fact that it’s used for a bottle that’s going to be drunk from amplifies that disparity.

      (And the fact that there’s a human watching the whole thing resonates with our own mirror neurons, which elegantly makes us feel like we’re the first-person viewer. Very well done.)

      Oh, and don’t forget that after giving the human the bottle, the ball does a sort of “dance” before going back to its docking station. That dance is elegant and graceful, if a bit short.)

      Really – an artistic video that scores high marks in my mental “artistic appreciation” algorithm. A very nice way to start my Monday morning.

      Thank you, HAD!

    2. Oh, and I just now realized that since the balloon can be rotated within the gantry, it can pick up things held out at an angle.

      Like, if the bottle were in a slot so that the neck sticks up and out at a 45 degree angle, the system could rotate the gripper into that orentation.


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