Pneumatics & Hydraulics

Gripper modelled on a chameleon’s tongue

August 2016 Pneumatics & Hydraulics

Gripping applications have always played a key role in production and Festo is constantly on the lookout for new gripping principles and innovative approaches to production systems in the factory of tomorrow. Using nature as a model, Festo has now developed a gripper whose working principle is derived from the tongue of a chameleon, in cooperation with the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences,

The FlexShapeGripper can pick up, gather and set back down several objects with the widest range of shapes in one procedure – without the need for a manual conversion. This is made possible by its water-filled silicone cap, which wraps itself around the items being gripped in a flexible and form-fitting manner.

Nature as a model

In nature, the unique combination of force and form fit demonstrated by the tongue can be observed when the chameleon is on the hunt for insects. Once the chameleon has its prey in its sights, it lets its tongue shoot out like a rubber band. Just before the tip of the tongue reaches the insect it retracts in the middle, whilst the edges continue to move forwards. This allows the tongue to adapt to the shape and size of the prey and firmly enclose it. The prey sticks to the tongue and is pulled in like a fishing line.

A double-acting cylinder

The gripper consists of a double-acting cylinder where one chamber is filled with compressed air whilst the second one is permanently filled with water. This second chamber is fitted with elastic silicone moulding, which models the chameleon’s tongue. The volume of the two chambers is designed so that the deformation of the silicone part is compensated. The piston, which closely separates the two chambers from each other, is fastened with a thin rod on the inside of the silicone cap.

Form-fitting gripping through inversion

During the gripping procedure, a handling system guides the gripper across the object so that it touches the article with its silicone cap. The top pressurised chamber is then vented. The piston moves upwards by means of a spring support and the water-filled silicone part pulls itself inwards. Simultaneously, the handling system guides the gripper further across the object. In doing so, the silicone cap wraps itself around the object to be gripped, which can be of any shape, resulting in a tight form fit. The elastic silicone allows a precise adaptation to a wide range of different geometries. The high static friction of the material generates a strong holding force. Both the holding and the release mechanism are triggered pneumatically. No additional energy is necessary for the holding process.

The yielding quality of the compressible compressed air simplifies the coordination between the handling system and gripper during the grip stage. The force and the deformation of the silicone part can be set very precisely with the aid of a proportional valve. This allows several parts to be gripped at once in a single procedure.

Flexible systems

In future, the FlexShapeGripper could be used in any facility where multiple objects with a range of different shapes are handled at the same time – for example in the service robotics sector, for assembly tasks or when handling small parts. In flexible production plants, it would be possible to handle all kinds of products in one procedure, without having to change the gripper.

In today’s industrial automation environment there are many different grippers, each developed for a special task. If the shape of a workpiece changes, the corresponding gripper must be replaced on the machine or converted, which requires a great deal of effort. In facilities that make a range of products, changeover systems are therefore used, which are fitted with different grippers. In the factory of the future, however, there will be a need for more flexible systems, which are independently adjusted to each product being made. Adaptable grippers like the FlexShapeGripper can assume a significant role in this respect.

Festo’s Bionic Learning Network aims not only to learn from nature, but also to identify good ideas at an early stage and foster them jointly beyond company borders. The project shows how Festo applies principles from nature to its core business of automation and how important the interdisciplinary exchange of information is beyond company borders. The gripper is an outstanding example of the close collaboration by Festo with international universities as part of this network.

The full story can be found at

For more information contact Kershia Beharie, Festo, +27 (0)11 971 5509,,


Share this article:
Share via emailShare via LinkedInPrint this page

Further reading:

Rethinking pneumatic technology for the factories of the future
September 2020, Parker Hannifin Sales Company South , Pneumatics & Hydraulics
Does a technology such as pneumatics have a central role to play in the flexible, smart production lines of the factories of the future?

Do all wireless solutions solve real industry problems?
September 2020, Festo South Africa , Industrial Wireless
By using modern, standards-driven wireless technologies, designers and machine users have access to new tools that can help transform and simplify their working lives.

Hydraulic hose installation and maintenance
September 2020, Bearing Man Group t/a BMG , Pneumatics & Hydraulics
BMG’s portfolio of components includes the full range of Eaton Winner hydraulic braided and spiral hose and fittings.

Condition monitoring in the cloud
August 2020, Festo South Africa , Maintenance, Test & Measurement, Calibration
Detecting irregularities at an early stage and initiating the necessary measures before a system failure are now made possible by the dashboards and IoT gateway CPX-IOT from Festo. The turnkey, preconfigured ...

Experience digitalisation at the Festo Virtual Exhibition
June 2020, Festo South Africa , News
Festo is breaking new ground with its first-ever Virtual Exhibition scheduled to take place from the 15-16 July. Visitors will get to experience digitalisation as never before. This exhibition will be ...

Festo TechTalk: Energy efficiency thanks to smart products
July 2020, Festo South Africa , IT in Manufacturing
This year’s TechTalk focused on smart products that help companies to produce energy efficiently, educational measures that empower employees for lifelong learning as well as for the digital working world ...

Festo online configurator tool simplifies sizing of process valves
April 2020, Festo South Africa , Valves, Actuators & Pump Control
From manually operated to automated process valves, the new configurator tool for process valves from Festo makes selecting the right solution easy and less time-consuming.

Seamless integrated connectivity for electric automation from Festo
April 2020, Festo South Africa , Fieldbus & Industrial Networking
The cloud is everywhere. We save data on the cloud and access it on our phones and computers from anywhere at our convenience. The same applies to seamless connectivity in industrial automation from your ...

RS adds self-adjusting double-acting air cylinders
December 2019, RS Components SA , Pneumatics & Hydraulics
RS Components has expanded its offering from factory automation manufacturer Festo to include new double-acting pneumatic cylinders in the DSBC product range. Aimed at both machine builders and maintenance ...

Festo’s digitalised product world
January 2020, Festo South Africa , System Integration & Control Systems Design
HoloLens, mobile phones, 3D printing and smart glasses – the gadgets that captured the public imagination in the blockbuster movie ‘Back to the Future’ over 30 years ago have now become a reality, all thanks to digitalisation.