Bionic NXTPod 3.0 by DiMastero

One comment

[Thanks to DiMastero for submitting this project!]


Festo, founded in 1925, is a German engineering-driven company based in Esslingen am Neckar. Festo sells both pneumatic and electric actuators, and provides solutions from assembly lines to fully automated full automation solutions utilizing Festo and third party components. It also has a kind of R&D department, the Bionic Learning Network, where they’ve created some amazing projects including SmartBird (“bird flight deciphered”), AquaJelly, Robotino XT and much more. [source]

They also created the Bionic Tripod 3.0, an arm-like robot based on four flexible rods actuated from below. By moving the actuators to different positions, the rods bend and move the adaptive gripper to any position quickly and energy efficiently.

“Festo – Bionic Tripod 3.0″ demonstration video

The tripod has been partially replicated before, but I’ve found no evidence about it being done entirely of Lego MindStorms. Cue the Bionic NXTPod 3.0

The following image cannot be displayed: Bionic NXTPod 3.0


  • 2 Lego Mindstorms NXT intelligent bricks – one 1.0 and one 2.0
  • 5 Lego Mindstorms NXT motors
  • 4 Lego Mindstorms NXT touch sensors
  • 1 Lego Mindstorms NXT 1.0 light sensor
  • 1 Lego Power Functions (PF) LED light
  • 1 Lego pneumatic actuator, switch and pump

The robot itself consists of these parts:

  • 4 actuators
  • 4 flexible rods
  • the pneumatic grabber
  • the main structure
  • PF LEDs and a light sensor for communication

Mechanically, the NXTPod’s most important parts are the four actuators. They’re made up of a single NXT servo motor, which spins a worm wheel up a four-part gear rack, moving a sledge up or down a 14 studs axle. It can move up to 19 rotations up or down, in about 11 seconds at the default speed of 75%.

The following image cannot be displayed: Bionic NXTPod 3.0's actuators initial designinitial design of one of the four linear actuators; has improved since

The last motor serves a double function, to perform a single task: it moves the pneumatic switch and pumps the pump, opening or closing the gripper.

The following image cannot be displayed: Bionic NXTPod 3.0's gripper with its motor attachedgripper and its motor, final design

Both NXTs take care of two of the actuators, which are color coded to make programming easier – the master controls the red and blue motors, while the slave takes care of the black and beige ones. The slave also controls the pneumatic gripper at the tripod’s top.

The following image cannot be displayed: Bionic NXTPod 3.0's four color coded actuators (highlighted)the four color coded motors (red, blue, black, beige)

To connect the NXTs, the master has a NXT-PF cable connected to motor port B to control the LEDs in front of the slave’s light sensor. The problem with this setup is that the master can’t get any feedback from the slave. Therefore, it’s got to take the time the slave takes to perform certain actions into account to avoid overlapping commands.


Generally, the NXTs are set up in a master-slave configuration, where the master sends commands to the slave using LEDs and a light sensor and then waits for the slave to finish to send a new task. This is how it works:

  1. The slave is started up by the user
  2. The master is started up by the user, and turns the LEDs on for a tenth of a second
  3. Both the master and slave calibrate their motors ´by moving the actuators down until the touch sensors are pressed once the light is turned off again
  4. Once its calibrated, the slave waits for the LEDs to turn on again, so it knows a command is coming
  5. The master calibrates and waits the remaining of the eleven seconds to make sure the slave has calibrated as well, so it doesn’t send any commands before the slave is ready
  6. The master reads the block of code containing the positions for all four actuators and the gripper, and converts this into 12 binary bytes
  7. The LEDs are turned on, and after a short wait, the master turns the lights on and off ten times a second, taking a total of 1300 mSecs, or 1.3 seconds per full message.
  8. When the slave receive the bytes, it decodes them
  9. Both of the NXTs start simultaneously, and go to their positions.
  10. At the same time, the master calculates how many degrees the slave has to turn, and converts it into the approximate waiting time to, again, avoid overlapping commands
  11. Steps 6-10 repeat until the master has run through all of the blocks of code, after which it shuts down. The slave has to be turned off manually; the slave must be restarted every time the master finishes, or it will interpret the calibration command incorrectly.

The robot is very easy to program, and the user only has to provide 6 lines of code per tripod position:

1 motor_blue_rotations = 1;
2 motor_red_rotations = 1;
3 motor_black_rotations = 10;
4 motor_beige_rotations = 10;
5 gripper_operation = 0;
6 wait_for_completion();
7 wait10mSec(100);

The program does the rest of the work, also making sure the robot doesn’t ever overrun anything, and calibrates as much as possible. You can download the RobotC code at my downloads page, over here. Below is a short demonstration video:

“Bionic NXTPod 3.0″ demonstration video

Completion date: 2011/06/12

Last updated: 2011/06/12

Disclaimer: This site is neither owned nor endorsed by Festo Group. The Bionic Learning Network, SmartBird, AquaJelly and Robotino are all copyrighted by Festo. The Bionic Tripod 3.0, on which this project is based, is also copyrighted by Festo.

Written by Vu Nguyen

June 17th, 2011 at 10:00 am

Posted in Cool projects,NXT