An invention similar to an elephant’s trunk has potential benefits for many industries where handling delicate objects is essential, say the UNSW researchers who developed it.
Nature has inspired engineers at UNSW Sydney to develop a soft fabric robotic gripper which behaves like an elephant’s trunk to grasp, pick up and release objects without breaking them.
The researchers say the versatile technology could be widely applied in sectors where fragile objects are handled, such as agriculture, food and the scientific and resource exploration industries – even for human rescue operations or personal assistive devices.
He is the senior author of a study featuring the invention, published in Advanced Materials Technologies this month.
Dr Do worked with the study’s lead author and PhD candidate Trung Thien Hoang, Phuoc Thien Phan, Mai Thanh Thai and his collaborator Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell, Head of the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.
“Our new soft fabric gripper is thin, flat, lightweight and can grip and retrieve various objects – even from confined hollow spaces – for example, a pen inside a tube,” Dr Do said.
“This device also has an enhanced real-time force sensor which is 15 times more sensitive than conventional designs and detects the grip strength required to prevent damage to objects it’s handling.
“There is also a thermally-activated mechanism that can change the gripper body from flexible to stiff and vice versa, enabling it to grasp and hold objects of various shapes and weights – up to 220 times heavier than the gripper’s mass.”
Dr Do said the researchers found inspiration in nature when designing their soft fabric gripper.
“Animals such as an elephant, python or octopus use the soft, continuum structures of their bodies to coil their grip around objects while increasing contact and stability – it’s easy for them to explore, grasp and manipulate objects,” he said.
“These animals can do this because of a combination of highly sensitive organs, sense of touch and the strength of thousands of muscles without rigid bone – for example, an elephant’s trunk has up to 40,000 muscles.
“So, we wanted to mimic these gripping capabilities – holding and manipulating objects are essential motor skills for many robots.”
Improvement on existing grippers
Dr Do said the researchers’ new soft gripper was an improvement on existing designs which had disadvantages that limited their application.
“Many soft grippers are based on claws or human hand-like structures with multiple inward-bending fingers, but this makes them unsuitable to grip objects that are oddly shaped, heavy or bulky, or objects smaller or larger than the gripper’s opening,” he said.
“Many existing soft grippers also lack sensory feedback and adjustable stiffness capabilities, which means you can’t use them with fragile objects or in confined environments.
“Our technology can grip long, slender objects and retrieve them from confined, narrow spaces, as well as hook through holes in objects to pick them up – for example, a mug handle.”
Lead author Trung Thien Hoang said the researchers’ fabrication method was also simple and scalable, which allowed the gripper to be easily produced at different sizes and volumes – for example, a one-metre long gripper could handle objects at least 300 millimetres in diameter.
During testing, a gripper prototype weighing 8.2 grams could lift an object of 1.8 kilograms – more than 220 times the gripper’s mass – while a prototype 13 centimetres long could wrap around an object with a diameter of 30 mm.
Prof. Nigel Lovell said: “We used a manufacturing process involving computerised apparel engineering and applied newly designed, highly sensitive liquid metal-based tactile sensors for detecting the grip force required.
“The gripper’s flat continuum also gives it superior contact with surfaces as it wraps around an object, while increasing the holding force.
“What’s more, the total heating and cooling cycle for the gripper to change structure from flexible to rigid takes less than half a minute, which is among the fastest reported so far.”
Integrating robotic arms and the sense of touch
Dr Do has filed a provisional patent for the new gripper, having successfully tested and validated the technology as a complete device.
He expects the gripper to be commercially available in the next 12 to 16 months, if he finds an industry partner.
“We now aim to optimise the integrated materials, develop a closed-loop control algorithm, and integrate the gripper into the ends of robotic arms for gripping and manipulating objects autonomously,” Dr Do said.
“If we can achieve these next steps, there will be no need to manually lift the gripper which will help for handling very large, heavy objects.
“We are also working on combining the gripper with our recently announced wearable haptic glove device, which would enable the user to remotely control the gripper while experiencing what an object feels like at the same time.”
The Latest Updates from Bing News & Google News
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Soft fabric robotic gripper
- Mushroom-design fastener could aid soft roboticson January 21, 2021 at 2:47 am
Researchers have developed a new fastener with a microscopic mushroom-like design, which is hoped to lead to advances in the soft robotics field.
- Scientists Have Finally Made Quieter Velcroon January 20, 2021 at 12:15 pm
Velcro is great when you need to open stuff fast or with ease, but Velcro is not so great when you’re trying to discreetly open your shoulder bag to grab your headphones. Researchers from Wageningen ...
- Fastener with microscopic mushroom design holds promiseon January 19, 2021 at 6:38 pm
The team believes a 3D mushroom design can be made with softer, more flexible materials and provide sufficient interlocking force on the fabric and ... in the field of soft robotics.
- Fastener with microscopic mushroom design holds promiseon January 19, 2021 at 1:14 pm
A Velcro-like fastener with a microscopic design that looks like tiny mushrooms could mean advances for everyday consumers and scientific fields like robotics.
- CES 2021 Highlights: 79 Gadgets and Glimpses Into the Futureon January 14, 2021 at 6:19 am
PopSockets are a great way to maintain a firm grip on an oversized smartphone ... can be adjusted to weed out furry friends or robot vacuums. I particularly like that there are three modes ...
Go deeper with Google Headlines on:
Soft fabric robotic gripper
No news articles
Go deeper with Bing News on:
Wearable haptic glove device
- Apple is updating and refining their invention of finger accessories for VR headsetson January 24, 2021 at 1:48 pm
Apple is updating and refining their invention of finger accessories for VR headsets In October 2019, Apple published a patent ...
- SenseGlove expects to have a consumer-ready product in 5 yearson January 21, 2021 at 7:38 pm
Haptic feedback VR gloves are very expensive right now, but if SenseGlove's plans work out, they could get as cheap as $500.
- These haptic feedback VR gloves are changing virtual reality – here's howon January 15, 2021 at 10:01 am
Haptic feedback ... SenseGlove Nova VR gloves make a firm stride in that direction, bringing us closer than ever to realistic simulations and fully sensory VR. These wearable controllers offer ...
- These haptic feedback VR gloves are changing virtual reality – here's howon January 15, 2021 at 9:51 am
Haptic feedback could be the next frontier for immersive VR experiences, and the new SenseGlove Nova VR gloves make a firm stride in that direction, bringing us closer than ever to realistic ...
- CES 2021: smart masks, smarter homes and flying vehicleson January 14, 2021 at 10:15 pm
AirPop introduced its smart wearable ... a single device can be used for 30 days without needed a recharge. CarePredict’s Pinpoint used AI to improve contact racing in senior living facilities such as ...