If you deal with electronics, you probably think of static electricity as a bad thing. It blows up MOSFETs and ICs and we take a lot of pains to prevent that kind of damage. But a start-up company called Grabit is using static electricity as a way to allow robots to manipulate the real world. In particular, Nike is using these robots to build shoes. You can see a demo video, below.
Traditional robots use human-like hands or claw-like grippers to mimic how humans handle material. But Grabit has multiple patents on electroadhesion. The original focus was wall-climbing robots, but the real pay off has been in manufacturing robots since the electrostatic robots can do things that mechanical hands are a long way from duplicating.
The shoe making robot works with a human partner. Where a human can set up a shoe in about 10 or 20 minutes, the machine/human partner can do it in about a minute. Software shows the operator how to place material on a glass table. A platform covered in electroadhesive pads picks everything up. When in the right position in a heat press, the charge turns off, releasing the material.
Because the technology is patented, it ought to be easy to find out what the principle of operation is. The basic operation seems pretty obvious, anyway. We’ll be interested in seeing what the hacking community could do with electrostatic robotics.