Updated: Jan 31, 2022
Demand for robotic automation is rising due to a decreasing supply of labor and a simultaneous increase in consumer demand. A critical component for a robot is the gripper – the part that interacts with objects and serves as the robot’s “hand”.
While grippers have proven to be successful for many repetitive and simple tasks, a continuing challenge is creating a gripper with a high level of dexterity, adaptability, and sensitivity. This challenge is especially true for applications in agriculture, food processing, and e-commerce where objects vary in size and shape, are delicate and easily damaged, or change shape under the force of a gripper.
Artimus Robotics is excited to introduce electrically-controlled soft grippers which provide controllable, fast, and sensitive gripping for a range of objects. Using HASEL actuator technology, these grippers respond quickly for fast cycle times in pick and place applications. The soft structure of the grippers from Artimus Robotics easily conforms to a variety of shapes to provide a secure yet delicate grasp of objects. Additionally, the gripping force is controlled by a variable input voltage to ensure a good grip while also preventing damage. Finally, HASEL actuators can simultaneously act as sensors, which allows these grippers to detect contact with an object, determine if an object is slipping, or infer information about the properties of the object being gripped, such as stiffness. The combination of these benefits translates into a soft electric gripper that is capable of automating a variety of tasks that are difficult for rigid grippers and pneumatic soft grippers.
Intelligent, electric, soft gripper video - Agricultural
Intelligent, electric, soft gripper video - Assorted Hardware
What is a gripper?
Grippers, also called end-effectors, end-of-arm tooling, or robotic hands, are the part of a robotic arm that interacts with objects. If comparing a robotic arm to a human arm, the gripper is equivalent to the hand of a human. The gripper is what does the grasping function and contacts the object to be gripped.
Where are grippers used?
Automated grippers are commonly used for pick and place tasks in industrial automation applications or food packaging. Grippers can also be manually controlled for exceptionally delicate tasks, such as surgical procedures or handling explosives.
What are the challenges for grippers?
It is common to see grippers that have been designed for repeatedly handling a specific object that is in the same orientation and is often made from rigid materials. An example of this is loading and unloading identical parts on a CNC machine. However, emerging applications for robots require automating tasks that are not as well defined and that require robots to handle a variety of objects. Industries such as agriculture and e-commerce are looking for robots that are capable of performing tasks that require human-like dexterity and sensitivity. A shortage of labor and an increase in demand has been driving the urgent need for automation in new use cases.
In general, robots work very well in controlled environments doing repetitive tasks. However, in order to realize the full potential of robots, we need machines that can work in changing environments and interact with objects that vary in shape and size. A big challenge to this is in the vision and path planning - robots must find the target object and find the best way to get it. Many companies are working on this problem due to the recent developments in vision and machine learning. Another challenge is on the hardware side of this problem. A key component for achieving these capabilities will be grippers that have the dexterity to handle a wide variety of objects, especially those that are delicate or have irregular shapes.
Most grippers are driven by motors and designed to pick a single, consistent object. However, most of the tasks that would benefit from a robot, such as to combat labor shortages, require handling a variety of object shapes and sizes. For example, consider the versatility required in agriculture to pick and handle produce, or in manufacturing, sorting the mixed variety of products on production lines. These objects exhibit a wide range of variability in size and shape, and can be fragile or squishy to touch. In order for a robot to be useful in assisting these applications, the gripper must be versatile enough to handle these variables.
What is unique about HASEL for grippers?
Several companies are exploring soft grippers to address the challenges listed above. Unfortunately, traditional soft gripper technologies simply are not versatile enough to solve the dexterity and environmental problems. Pneumatic soft grippers are slow, unintelligent, and have limited control. Vacuum grippers can’t grip meshed or non-flat/irregularly shaped objects, and suction areas can damage delicate objects. These traditional soft grippers have limited deformation modes and struggle to grip complex shapes. They are unable to adapt to the object and can not conform to its surface, limiting the amount of surface area contact. This requires more force to compensate, which can damage the objects.
HASEL technology can satisfy the requirements of soft gripper applications. HASEL actuation is based on electrostatic principles, resulting in simple, reliable, and long-lasting designs. These soft grippers are highly compliant and adapt to the shape and size of the object. The high conformability gets more surface contact on the object with a solid but delicate grip compared to other soft grippers. HASEL technology also has built-in intelligent self-sensing capabilities which allow for grip force monitoring and closed-loop control, in addition to simple grip confirmation. These grippers are electric powered so the grasp time is very fast, and they can grip meshed and porous objects. Soft grippers from Artimus have analog control and manage good grasp strength with delicate gripping force. Artimus Robotics is developing artificial muscles, and the soft, intelligent grippers are state-of-the-art when it comes to replicating the functionality of the human hand.
About Artimus Robotics
Artimus Robotics designs and manufactures soft electric actuators. The technology was inspired by nature (muscles) and spun out of the University of Colorado. HASEL (Hydraulically Amplified Self-healing ELectrostatic) actuator technology operates when electrostatic forces are applied to a flexible polymer pouch and dielectric liquid to drive shape change in a soft structure. These principles can be applied to achieve a contracting motion, expanding motion, or other complex deformations. For more information, please visit Artimus Robotics or contact email@example.com.