Roller-Based Robot Hand Grasps

In a recent International Conference on Robotics and Automation paper, [Shenli Yaun] and some others from Stanford discuss the design of a roller-based robot hand that has many features that mimic the human hand. The key feature is that each of the three fingers has a roller with a small geared motor.

The rollers allowed the hand to change an object’s orientation without losing its grasp. Of course, this works well with spherical objects like a ball. But the video shows that it can manipulate other items like a 6-sided die, a water bottle, or even a piece of paper. By spreading the fingers it can even hold large objects you wouldn’t expect at first glance.

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Rolling Out A New Robot Arm

A lot of great scientific breakthroughs come through imitating nature, but technology often runs up against limits in certain areas. This is particularly evident in robotics, where it takes a lot of effort (and cost) to build a robot which can effectively manipulate heavy objects but not crush others which are more delicate. For that, a research group has looked outside of nature, developing a robotic grasper which uses omnidirectional wheels to grab various objects.

The robot hand is composed of three articulating fingers with fingertips which are able to actively manipulate the object that the hand is holding. With static fingertips, it is difficult to manipulate an object in the hand itself, but with the active surfaces at the fingertips it becomes easier to rotate the object without setting it down first or dropping it.

The project is much more than designing the robot hand itself, too. The robot uses calculated kinematics to manipulate the objects as well, but a second mode was also tried where the robot was able to “learn” how to handle the object it was given. The video linked below shows both modes in operation, with interesting results. If you prefer more biologically-inspired robot arms, though, there are always novel designs based on non-humans.

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[Jessica] Is Soft On Robot Grippers

It is an old movie trope: a robot grips something and accidentally crushes it with its super robot strength. A little feedback goes a long way, of course, but futuristic robots may also want to employ soft grippers. [Jessica] shows how to build soft grippers made of several cast fingers. The fingers are cast from Ecoflex 00-50, and use air pressure.

A 3D-printed mold is used to cast the Ecoflex fingers, which are only workable for 18 minutes after mixing, so it’s necessary to work fast and have everything ready before you start.

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This Force Controlled Robot Gripper Is Less Likely To Break Stuff

While robotic arms can handle a wide variety of tasks, the specific job at hand will have a major influence on the type of end effector used. For sorting ferromagnetic parts an electromagnet might be enough, while for more accurate location a mechanical gripper could be employed. If you’re working with particularly delicate objects or in concert with human beings, it may be desired to have a force controlled gripper to avoid damage. [James Bruton] has been whipping up a design of his own for just this purpose.

The basic gripper is 3D printed, with 3 fingers consisting of two joints each. Retraction of each finger is courtesy of bungee cord, while extension is via a servo attached to the finger through a spring. The position of each finger is measured with a resistive flex sensor. An Arduino Uno is employed to run the servos and read the attached sensors.

As force is applied by the servo, the spring begins to stretch. This leads to a greater difference between the servo position and the finger position as the applied force increases. By calculating this difference, it’s possible to determine the force applied by the fingers. This can then be used to limit the applied force of the gripper, to avoid breaking delicate objects or crushing soft, fleshy humans.

[James] notes that there are some drawbacks to the current design. The force required to move the fingers is inconsistent along their travel, and this interferes somewhat with accurate measurement. Overall though it’s a solid proof of concept and a good base for further revisions. Files are on Github for those who wish to tinker at home.

Being aware of the forces applied in mechanical settings can be key to getting good results. We’ve even seen arbor presses modified for just such a purpose. Video after the break.

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Wood SCARA Arm Gets A Grip

[Ignacio]’s VIRK I is a robot arm of SCARA design with a very memorable wooden body, and its new gripper allows it to do a simple pick and place demo. Designing a robot arm is a daunting task, and the fundamental mechanical design is only part of the whole. Even if the basic framework for a SCARA arm is a solved problem, the challenge of building it and the never-ending implementation details make it a long-term project.

When we first saw VIRK I in all its shining, Australian Blackwood glory, it lacked any end effector and [Ignacio] wasn’t sure of the best way to control it. Since then, [Ignacio] has experimented with Marlin and Wangsamas support for SCARA arms, and designed a gripper based around a hobby servo. It’s as beautiful to see this project moving forward as it is to see the arm moving ping-pong balls around, embedded below.

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Greasing Robot Hands: Variable Friction Makes Robo-Mitts More Like Our Own

Unless you are in the fields of robotics or prosthetics, you likely take for granted the fine motor skills our hands have. Picking up and using a pen is no small feat for a robot which doesn’t have a dedicated pen-grabbing apparatus. Holding a mobile phone with the same gripper is equally daunting, not to mention moving that phone around once it has been grasped. Part of the wonder of our hands is the shape and texture which allows pens and phones to slide around at one moment, and hold fast the next moment. Yale’s Grab Lab has built a gripper which starts to solve that problem by changing the friction of the manipulators.

A spring-loaded set of slats with a low-friction surface allow a held object to move freely, but when more pressure is exerted by the robot, the slats retract and a high-friction surface contacts the object. This is similar to our fingers with their round surfaces. When we brush our hands over something lightly, they graze the surface but when we hold tight, our soft flesh meets the surface of the object and we can hold tightly. The Grab Lab is doing a great job demonstrating the solution and taking steps to more capable robots. All hail Skynet.

We have no shortage of gripper designs to choose from, including pneumatic silicone and one that conforms to an object’s surface, similar to our hands.

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Gecko Feet In Space

Space is a mess, and the sad truth is, we made it that way. Most satellites that have been lofted into Earth orbit didn’t have a plan for retiring them, and those dead hulks, along with the various bits of jetsam in the form of shrouds, fairings, and at least one astronaut’s glove, are becoming a problem.

A mission intended to clean up space junk would be fantastically expensive, but money isn’t the only problem. It turns out that it’s really hard to grab objects in space unless they were specifically designed to be grabbed. Suction cups won’t work in the vacuum of space, not everything up there is ferromagnetic, and mechanical grippers would have to deal with a huge variety of shapes, sizes,¬†and textures.

But now news comes from Stanford University of a dry adhesive based on the same principle a gecko uses to walk up a wall. Gecko feet have microscopic flaps that stick to surfaces because of Van der Waals forces. [Mark Cutkosky] and his team’s adhesive works similarly, adhering to surfaces only when applied in a certain direction. This is an advantage over traditional pressure-sensitive adhesives; the force needed to apply them would cause the object to float away in space. The Stanford grippers have been tested on the “vomit comet” and aboard the ISS.

We can think of tons of terrestrial applications for this adhesive, including the obvious wall-walking robots. The Stanford team also lists landing pads for drones that would let then perch in odd locations, which we find intriguing.

Need to get up to speed on more mundane adhesive? Check out our guide to sticky stuff for the shop.

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