The sagged flower like robot gripper lifts 100 times its own weight

Highlights

1.A robot gripper is designed to pick up objects that look exceptional. 2.The gripper was tested on a wide of objects, including fruit, vegetables, bottles, and cans. 3.The device does work without harming and maintaining a good grip to lift 100 times its own weight












Daniela Rus, a professor at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) says, if someone asked you to imagine a robot, you'd probably think of a human-shaped bot or some heavy-duty industrial robot arm. "But for me, I would like to see a change," she told.

At MIT, the latest work from her team is a perfect example. It's a robot gripper that's designed to pick up objects, but its looks are exceptional. Visually, it resembles a rubber tulip or a deflated balloon than a sci-fi robot hand.

The gripper unique look makes it potentially so useful. Under its rubber skin is an origami skeleton that's shaped more like a starfish. As gas is pumped in and out of the gripper's airtight enclosure, the device opens and closes just like a flower.

The device can pick up delicate objects without harming them while maintaining a good grip to lift 100 times its own weight. Rus told "By combining this foldable skeleton with the soft exterior, we get the best of both worlds. I'm excited about using such a robot hand to start grasping groceries."

Soft robot grippers like this aren't new. Over the past decade, the field has seen a lot of development, with engineers are trying their best to take advantage of soft machines. One natural use case is logistics: picking up things in warehouses and factories. Though much of this work has been automated, humans are still employed in a large number by firms like Amazon to handle individual items, packing them into bags and boxes.

The main reason is that the traditional robot grippers are made of metal and hard plastics actually struggle with delicate items and irregular shapes. The aged cliché of an out-of-control killer robot chanting "crush, destroy" isn't too far off here. Today an average robot in a factory can't unpack our shopping bag without turning eggs into omelettes and oranges into orange juice.

For this problem, soft robot grippers seem the best solution, and the past few years have seen an outburst of such technology. Labs like CSAIL as well as commercial companies like RightHand Robotics have all gotten in on the action, developing everything from inflatable robot hands to beanbag-like grippers to modules shaped like octopus tentacles.

Rus claims her new gripper is a better solution than any previous design any day. Its tulip shape helps it to approach objects from various angles, as against a gripper that's shaped like hands, which usually need to come at an object from the side. With the help of its origami skeleton, which Rus and her team debuted in the year 2017, it has got strength as well as flexibility.

When we question why such devices haven't been adopted yet, Rus explains that's because commercial solutions haven't yet caught up to "innovations coming out of the lab." Institutional inertia might be another reason. Once companies invest in expensive equipment, replacing them is not an easy decision, especially if updating your hardware means rearranging your whole production line.












It's very clear that the field of soft robotics continues to spit out bizarre and potentially useful creations. And if Rus and her colleagues get their way, it won't be very long until our idea of what a robot looks like changes for good. Rus says, "This is a first, to our knowledge, in creating a robot hand that can do such useful work."


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