Harvard researchers develop new kind of soft robotic gripper

September 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: Giant squid photographed for first time

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)

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

Giant squid photographed for first time

September 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

January 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 a raw egg without ...

Robots learn to pick up oddly shaped objects

May 9, 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 hold of an object, ...

DARPA to invest in iRobot's inflatable robot arm

August 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, the Defense Advanced ...

Recommended for you

A new form of real gold, almost as light as air

November 25, 2015

Researchers at ETH Zurich have created a new type of foam made of real gold. It is the lightest form ever produced of the precious metal: a thousand times lighter than its conventional form and yet it is nearly impossible ...

Moonlighting molecules: Finding new uses for old enzymes

November 27, 2015

A collaboration between the University of Cambridge and MedImmune, the global biologics research and development arm of AstraZeneca, has led researchers to identify a potentially significant new application for a well-known ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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?
5 / 5 (2) Sep 11, 2012
The advances in teledildonics are coming rapidly now.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.