New Device Helps Robots Get A Grip

An all-round gripper developed by South Korean researchers can freely handle objects regardless of shape and material.

AsianScientist (May. 19, 2021) – From screwdrivers to strawberries, there’s nothing that the new all-round gripper device, developed by scientists from South Korea, can’t handle. The details of their technology are described in IEEE Transactions on Industrial Electronics.

Almost every week, yet another viral trend seemingly takes the world by storm. In November 2019, audiences globally were captivated by the ‘Golden Retriever Egg Challenge’—where pet owners would test their dog’s ability to hold an egg inside its mouth without cracking it. While dogs are known for their sharp teeth, the challenge was meant to prove that the cuddly canines could handle even the most delicate of objects.

In South Korea, a team led by Dr. Park Chanhum from the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) conducted their own version of the #eggchallenge—except with robots. Unlike golden retrievers, robots still have difficulty handling irregularly shaped or fragile items using their ‘hands’ or grippers.

To enable robots to literally get a grip, Park and his colleagues developed a device that could hold things of various shapes, sizes and stiffness. The device, which they call an all-round gripper, has a contact surface with a texture comparable to tofu. When the gripper presses against an object, its contact surface is selectively deformed—allowing the gripper to perfectly match the object’s shape for a firmer hold.

Once the item is firmly in the gripper’s grasp, its contact surface hardens, keeping the object stable. This feature allows the gripper to safely hold and transfer a wide variety of items, ranging from common household appliances to softer food products. In fact, the team even managed to demonstrate the all-round gripper preparing a cocktail with a squeezed lemon, making chicken soup and cooking a dish made of squid.

None of this would’ve been possible with conventional robotic grippers, proving the usefulness of the team’s device. As COVID-19 continues to affect countries worldwide, the all-round gripper could pave the way for more sanitary, contact-free versions of common services like household chores, serving and even manufacturing.

“Conventional grippers are applicable to only a few objects, but our all-round grippers can be applied to various objects, because the gripper’s surface shape and rigidity can be transformed according to the target object. We hope the all-round gripper plays a key role in the advancement of contact-free services,” concluded Park.

The article can be found at: Lee et al. (2020) Shape-adaptive universal soft parallel gripper for delicate grasping using a stiffness-variable composite structure.


Source: National Research Council of Science & Technology; Photo: Shutterstock.
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