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Fluidic muscles get them shaking in the aisles

26 October 2010

The specialist supplier of 4D effects theatres and simulation attractions, Simworx has chosen to base the dynamic seat modules for its new Dimensions range of effects theatres on Festo’s fluidic muscles. Optional built-in effects include leg ticklers, air-blast and water spray functions. Never let it be said that today's cinematic experience is merely visual!

Based in Kingswinford, West Midlands, Simworx has grown to become a world leader in the design, manufacture and supply of fixed-site and mobile 4D effects theatres and simulation attractions. The company has more than 600 installations worldwide, including a large number of space, aeronautical and science museums in the UK and USA, and many of the leading theme parks in Europe. Its customer base also includes a considerable number of prestigious blue chip companies and organisations.

The seats for Simworx' latest Dimensions range of effects theatres are based on a modular design, incorporating all the motion control actuators in a shallow, floor-standing plinth that supports four individual seats. There are two basic models: the Dimensions 4D seats feature backwards drop and vibration functions, while the Dimensions 5D models add forwards/backwards tilt, left-right tilt and vertical drop functions to the list of effects. The headrest of each seat can optionally be equipped with fully-integrated air-blast and water spray capabilities, and to complete the picture, the pedestal of each seat can be fitted with a pneumatically-powered leg tickler.

Over the years, Simworx has employed a variety of actuators from different manufacturers for its dynamic effects seats. Most of these have been pneumatic, since this type of technology is cost-effective, inherently safe, and offers a much higher power density than electric actuators, making it easier to integrate into the body of the seat. During the development of its latest Dimensions series seats, Simworx became aware of Festo's fluidic muscles, a novel pneumatic actuator that came out of Festo's bionic concepts research programme, and which are now available as standard industrial products.

Fluidic muscles are tensile actuators which mimic their biological counterparts by contracting when fed with compressed air. They are capable of exceptionally fast and smooth operation, as well as slow, jolt-free movement, and can generate an initial force some ten times higher than a conventional pneumatic actuator of the same diameter. Simworx director, Andy Roberts takes up the story:

“I first became aware of Festo's fluidic muscles when I attended a technology showcase event at the company's HQ in Northampton. It was immediately apparent that the muscles are considerably better than conventional pneumatic actuators for simulator-type applications like ours. They provide excellent dynamic performance, and have a much higher power density. We have just installed our new Dimensions seats in Manchester Science Museum and are currently putting the finishing touches to a system for an indoor theme park on Weston-super-Mare's Grand Pier. I envisage we'll be making increasing use of this technology in the future."

Simworx chose the most powerful, 40 mm diameter, versions of Festo's DMSP series fluidic muscles, which employ press-fitted connections to minimise size and weight. Each four-seat plinth module contains four muscles - one in each corner - together with four manifold-mounted Festo VPPM proportional pressure regulators, and a control unit. Compressed air is supplied from outside the theatre via a ring main and is exhausted locally through silencers.

The seat module control units are linked back to a host PC via a fieldbus link. The film being shown provides ‘event triggers’ to instruct the central controller to issue appropriate signals to all the seat modules in the theatre simultaneously, resulting in the entire audience experiencing exactly the same effect - be it pitch, rock, vibrate or sudden drop – all at the same time.

'Shaken not stirred' has suddenly taken on a whole new meaning!

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