The ’60s cult classic, The Prisoner, is remembered for a lot of reasons, including the mightily extensive list of ways Number Six had his brain bent out of shape by psychedelic manipulation. But perhaps the most surreal part of the show was Rover, the giant balloon entity that would appear out of nowhere, flop around, knock people off their feet, and then vacuum them up for a ride to who knows where.
Now, a German automation company, named Festo, has built a balloon drone reminiscent of Rover, and it sucks things up like this:
The balloon-gripper drone is an example of Festo’s FreeMotionHandling products, and is based on its earlier eMotionSphere. As you can see in the video above, it floats around thanks to its neutrally buoyant, helium-filled balloon body, and is able to propel itself from A to B using a series of small rotors fastened to an ultra-light carbon latticework around its waist. Then there is, of course, the pièce de résistance: a sucking vacuum gripper that slurps up objects for delivery.
Aside from being hilarious to watch (and listen to, check out 0:29 in the video), that gripping mechanism, which builds on Festo’s FlexShapeGripper technology, is actually modeled on a chameleon’s tongue. It works by enveloping the object intended for pick-up, and then adjusting the tongue-tube-thing’s volume with air pressure to fit itself snuggly around its cargo.
Ultimately, Festo is developing its eMotionSpheres and FlexShapeGripper technology in unison in order to create a self-sustained drone that can work in a factory, moving parts of all shapes and sizes—with that magical chameleon tongue-tube—from one location to another without assistance or supervision. Although somebody may want to keep an eye on it, or at least use it to keep an eye on the prisoners in the Village—’cause the similarity here is uncanny, as evidenced by a clip from the show:
What do you think about Festo’s balloon drone? Is it the perfect way to automate more factory labor, or is it better suited for harassing far-out ’60s super spies trapped in a weird enclave of sabotage? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below!