Harvard researchers develop new kind of soft robotic gripper

Sep 11, 2012 by Bob Yirka report
3D tentacles with multiple sections. Credit: Advanced Materials. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203002

(Phys.org)—Because traditional robot hands or grippers were first created to assist in production type enterprises, e.g. to help build cars, etc., they have not been very good at working with soft materials. For that reason, over the past couple of years, robot engineers have been working to come up with new ways to give robot hands the ability to manipulate small and/or fragile objects. Now a team from Harvard working with the Department of Energy and DARPA has come up with a tentacle type gripper that is sensitive enough to lift a flower without crushing it. They have had their paper describing their results published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Most robot hands work in ways similar to the human hand, they have that make use of joints to close around an object and then clamp down it with enough pressure to allow for picking things up and setting them down. Newer soft bodied robot hands take their cue from like snakes and in this case, octopi, which grasp objects by covering them with a single soft appendage and squeezing. The result is a the research teams calls a tentacle, which like the octopus, is able to wrap around (or be wrapped around) an object's different parts, spreading the pressure exerted against it in a very gentile way.

The tentacle is a single plastic flexible tube with several channels inside that can each be pumped full of air, causing the pressure needed to hold on to an object. But because each channel is pressurized independently of the others, the tentacle can also be caused to curl in a directed fashion, allowing for wrapping, then squeezing. By adding just enough for the object to be lifted, the tentacle can be made to provide a very gentle lift. And because its abilities are based on air pressure, the tentacle can also be reduced in size when not in use, something that could come in handy for work in tight spaces.

This video is not supported by your browser at this time.

The multiple channel approach allows for the tentacle to curl in three dimensions, whereas others up till now could only curl in one direction. To add even more functionality, the team has tried affixing a very small camera to the end of the tentacle, a syringe and even a suction cup to allow the tentacle to latch onto objects or hold them in different ways.

Explore further: Simulations for better transparent oxide layers

More information: Robotic Tentacles with Three-Dimensional Mobility Based on Flexible Elastomers, Advanced Materials. Article first published online: 7 SEP 2012. DOI: 10.1002/adma.201203002 (Full text PDF)

Abstract
Soft robotic tentacles that move in three dimensions upon pressurization are fabricated by composing flexible elastomers with different tensile strengths using soft lithographic molding. These actuators are able to grip complex shapes and manipulate delicate objects. Embedding functional components into these actuators (for example, a needle for delivering fluid, a video camera, and a suction cup) extends their capabilities.

Related Stories

Robots learn to pick up oddly shaped objects

May 09, 2012

(Phys.org) -- When Cornell engineers developed a new type of robot hand that could pick up oddly shaped objects it presented a challenge: It was easy for a human operator to choose the best place to take h ...

DARPA to invest in iRobot's inflatable robot arm

Aug 22, 2012

(Phys.org) -- In military operations there are a lot of things that need to be done besides fighting, and the US government is hoping to offload as much of those things as possible to robots. To that end, ...

Giant squid photographed for first time

Sep 28, 2005

A mysterious sea creature -- the giant squid immortalized by Jules Verne's novel "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" -- has been photographed for the first time.

Soft grip: Pneumatic elastomers as robotic arms

Jan 21, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- It looks like a starfish made of soft plastic. When air is blown into it through a thin tube it comes to life and the starfish closes like a hand. It does this so gently that it can grasp ...

Recommended for you

Simulations for better transparent oxide layers

23 hours ago

Touchscreens and solar cells rely on special oxide layers. However, errors in the layers' atomic structure impair not only their transparency, but also their conductivity. Using atomic models, Fraunhofer ...

Team pioneers strategy for creating new materials

Aug 29, 2014

Making something new is never easy. Scientists constantly theorize about new materials, but when the material is manufactured it doesn't always work as expected. To create a new strategy for designing materials, ...

Plug n' Play protein crystals

Aug 29, 2014

Almost a hundred years ago in 1929 Linus Pauling presented the famous Pauling's Rules to describe the principles governing the structure of complex ionic crystals. These rules essentially describe how the ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

baudrunner
5 / 5 (1) Sep 11, 2012
The result is a gripper the research teams calls a tentacle, which like the octopus, is able to wrap around (or be wrapped around) an object's different parts, spreading the pressure exerted against it in a very gentile way.
Are Gentiles more adept at picking up delicate things than non-Gentiles?
VendicarD
5 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2012
The advances in teledildonics are coming rapidly now.