A robot penguin and its 3D Fin Ray structure. Source: Festo
Penguins are amazingly efficient swimmers: According to tests by Festo's engineers, their body shape shows a flow resistance 20 to 30% lower than the hydro-dynamically most favorable known technical bodies. If penguins were to run on gas, their energy efficiency would allow them to swim 1,500 kilometers through icy Antarctic waters - on just one liter (0.26 US gallons) of fuel!
Festo's AquaPenguin (video) and AirPenguin try to replicate some of this success and serve as both, a model and a testbed for new, bio-inspired technologies. The bionic Fin Ray structure, derived from the strange functional properties observed in tail fins of fish, is one such example.
Festo is a firm believer in learning from nature. For example, their BionicTripod implements a 3D version of the Fin Ray structure in a gripper to achieve an operating range that by far transcends that of the conventional tripod configuration and allows pick-and-place applications with an offset angle of up to 90 degrees (see video).
Like previous equally breath-taking bio-inspired projects, such as the manta rays AquaRay and AirRay as well as the Aquajelly and Airjelly, the robot penguins were developed in cooperation with robotics pioneer Rudolf Bannasch at EvoLogics.