This Soft Robotic Gripper can Screw in your Light Bulbs for you

Picking objects without even seeing them.


Scientists at the UCSanDiego have developed the first-ever soft robotic gripper that can pick up and manipulate objects without seeing them. The gripper can pick up, manipulate, and model various objects, from light bulbs to screwdrivers.

The uniqueness of this soft robotic gripper is far beyond what I previously thought. It can twist or sense objects and build models of the objects it’s manipulating. In addition, it performs all these tasks under low light and low visibility conditions.

Michael T. Tolley, a roboticist at the Jacobs School of Engineering at UC San Diego, said, “We designed the device to mimic what happens when you reach into your pocket and feel for your keys.”

This Soft Robotic Gripper can Screw in your Light Bulbs for you
A close-up of the gripper manipulating a 3D-printed square.

The gripper has three fingers, each with three soft, flexible pneumatic chambers that move with applied air pressure. This gives the gripper more than one level of flexibility so it can control the items it’s holding.

Moreover, the fingers are covered with a smart, sensing skin made of silicone rubber with embedded carbon nanotube sensors. Scientists then covered it with flexible rubber-like skin.

Tolley said, “The conductivity of the nanotubes changes as the fingers flex, which allows the sensing skin to record and detect when the fingers are moving and coming into contact with an object. The data the sensors generate is transmitted to a control board, which puts the information together to create a 3D model of the object the gripper is manipulating. It’s a process similar to a CT scan, where 2D image slices add up to a 3D picture.”

Scientists are further planning to add machine learning and artificial intelligence to data processing so that the gripper can identify the objects it’s manipulating. They also plan to use 3D printing for the gripper’s fingers to make them more durable.

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