Robotic grippers that mimic the muscle function of fingers have been invented by researchers, capable of picking up fragile objects of arbitrary shape and stiffness.
The breakthrough combines artificial muscles with electrostatic adhesion, or electroadhesion, and could be used to allow prosthetic hands to pick up hard-to-grasp objects like eggs or pieces of paper.
The robotic fingers were developed by scientists at Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) using stretchable electrodes and rubber. The tip of the electrodes act like fingertips that gently conform to the shape of the object, gripping onto it with electrostatic forces in the same way balloons can be made to stick to walls by rubbing them against certain surfaces.
“This is the first time that electroadhesion and soft robotics have been combined together to grasp objects,” said Jun Shintake, a PhD student at EPFL and lead author of the paper.
The soft robotics that Shintake refers to are an emerging field of robotic engineering that uses materials like silicon and rubber to create soft and flexible devices capable of behaving in a manner unlike traditional robots. Benefits over traditional robotics include resilience, cost effectiveness and manoeuvrability.
In comparison to Shintake’s invention, other grippers are either pneumatically controlled or fail at picking up fragile objects without the object’s shape and weight being pre-programmed into the robotic system. They have also been unable to handle flat or deformable objects.
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