Festo's SmartInversion flying contraption turns itself inside out for propulsion


April 24, 2012

Festo's SmartInversion flying object is filled with helium and uses inversion kinetics to propel itself forwards

Festo's SmartInversion flying object is filled with helium and uses inversion kinetics to propel itself forwards

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Festo, a German automation technology company that brought us, among other things, the smartbird robotic seagull and bionic flying penguins, has built a flying object unlike any we have seen. Despite the impressive biomimicry track record, this time its engineers decided to look for inspiration in the inanimate world of geometry. Based on a geometrical band first created by Swiss artist and inventor Paul Schatz, the SmartInversion is filled with helium and propels itself through the air by constantly turning itself inside out. By investigating this pulsating, rhythmical movement, called inversion, the company hopes to identify possible uses for it in technology.

SmartInversion - described by Festo as an “airborne geometrical band with inversion drive” - is going to look familiar to those who have played with a fairly popular origami design that can be continually twisted inwards or outwards while it shows different sides of the tetrahedra (spatial figures also known as “triangular pyramids”) it is made of. This giant piece of invertible origami is composed of selectively-linked, extremely lightweight tetrahedron-shaped compartments filled with helium. Operated by electric actuators, the tetrahedra use inversion kinetics to propel the contraption forwards.

When exploring the properties of inversion, Schatz discovered that it could be described by the principle of kinematics, a branch of classical mechanics that described movement by means of rotation and translation only. A designer himself, Schatz concluded that this third type of motion also fitted. Nearly a century later, Festo engineers seem to be proving him right.

Although currently valued mostly for its aesthetic qualities, the SmartInversion project may have a broader impact on technology. More ingenious designs are likely to be submitted to the student design contest organized by the Festo Bionic Learning Network and the German Design Council in association with the 2012 Hanover Trade Fair. The goal is to “investigate the phenomenon of inversion in greater depth”. With over 30,000 euros (US$ 39,483) at stake, the contestants are likely to show some serious creativity.

Source: Festo

About the Author
Jan Belezina Formerly in charge of Engadget Poland, Jan Belezina's long time fascination with the advance of new technology has led him to become Gizmag's eyes and ears in Eastern Europe. All articles by Jan Belezina

That is a seriously cool object; looks like it's based on a deep sea creature. As for the production staff for this video, they need some serious time off - or they should do the ghost movie they've always wanted to do.

Randolph Directo

Maybe the increased intrest in car to plane aviation will likly see such materials and shapes acting as traffic signals in the sky at 500 to 1000 feet.There shape changing abiltys would be useful for a varity of signaling.


I agree the video production staff need lots of time off. I keep on expecting Russell Crow to jump out with a sword. The video only gives you two very short views of the object actually flying, and it prevents you from getting any real idea of how it performs.

Benjamin Wade

I wish I could appreciate it but the room and the lighting were bad picks and the editor buried it. The most annoying video ever.

The Hoff

It looks rather nice (destpite the obfuscating video). Is this just an odd plaything or could the mechanics be used as a silent fan or maybe to harvest enery in flowing water or air? The gadget sometimes entirely covers an area so I suppose it could be used when the flow is weak.

Conny Söre

I agree with several other comments. Whatever they were trying to demonstrate was completely lost in the insane, inept, and incredibly annoying video editing. We never saw it actually move from one place to another by more than a couple feet and for perhaps one second of "flight". I would have really liked to see what this concept was capable of.


Clearly its anchoring at such altitudes is questionable however a further use may also be in a red bull type of kit synchronized competition scenario games


Exactly...what a horrible video...You never get to see a complete action of the device...that backwards and forwards jerkiness I doubt is the can't get any idea what this thing can do by the video...quit trying to be "artsy-fartsy" and instead show us what this thing does!


they're engineering art.

Nitrozzy Seven

Cool object, ridiculous video. That's just what I want when watching something with a unique and fascinating way of moving: quick cuts, speed, and focus changes to hide that movement!


Oh it's so humiliating to look at a simple physical object and yet have no idea of how it works, makes me want to eat a doughnut, and take a nap.

Dave B13
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