Festo’s AirPenguin achieves flight thanks to an internal helium-filled balloon.

Festo’s AirPenguin achieves flight thanks to an internal helium-filled balloon.

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Watch for our robot themed posts during May in honor of Make: Vol 45: Robots and don’t forget to subscribe to Make: magazine.

Rockstar Robots make up the cream of the crop in the world of robotics. These are the bots that will turn heads with just their name being uttered. Even those who don’t stay on top of who’s making what should recognize a famous robot or two when they see it.

For the month of May, to celebrate the latest Make: issue on robotics, we’re going to be sharing many robot celebrities so you can know who is who the next time you’re at a robot gathering.


If there was a beauty contest for robots then German robotic company Festo would be poised to take the crown (can robots wear crowns?). The company produces some of the more unusual, but absolutely gorgeous robots that can be found anywhere, including the snake-like Molecubes, AquaJellies artificial jellyfish and the AirPenguin, which is an autonomous robotic penguin that actually flies in the air.

The Airpenguin’s internals consist of four flexible carbon-fiber rods that are powered by actuators that move the head, tail, and wing appendages for flight. In fact, the wings are capable of forwards and backwards motions, which allows it to turn as well. Navigation is done through complex navigation sensors and a communications platform that’s powered by an XBee module.

Ultrasonic transmission stations define the block of airspace the Airpenguins can freely roam through.

Ultrasonic transmission stations define the block of airspace the Airpenguins can freely roam through.

A microcontroller gives the Airpenguin complete autonomous capabilities, meaning it can roam freely through a defined block of airspace, which is done by positioning ultrasonic transmission stations in a defined perimeter.

The purpose behind Festo’s Airpenguin is for the ongoing development of biomechatronic systems that mimic nature and can be adapted to robotic systems.The bottom line is that Festo’s robotic flying penguins are graceful, sleek, and pleasing on the eye, which undoubtedly gives them celebrity status.