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

Picking objects without even seeing them.

This Soft Robotic Gripper can Screw in your Light Bulbs for you
Researchers attached the gripper to the arm of a Fetch Robotics robot.

Scientists at the UCSanDiego have developed first ever soft robotic gripper that can pick up and manipulate objects without even seeing them. The gripper is able to pick up manipulate and model a range of objects, from light bulbs to screwdrivers.

The uniqueness of this soft robotic gripper is far beyond than 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 moves with applied air pressure. This gives the gripper more than one level of flexibility, so it can really control the items it’s holding.

Moreover, the fingers are covered with a smart, sensing skin made of silicone rubber with embedded carbon nanotubes 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 will actually be able to identify the objects it’s manipulating. They also planning for using 3D printing for the gripper’s fingers to make them more durable.