Mechanical robot grippers are designed to grasp specific shapes. This is perfect for assembly lines, where every object is the same. But what if a more flexible solution were required? Think of a conveyor belt covered with random junk that needed to be sorted for recycling: Imagine a robot hand that needs to pick up a can, a glass dish, a plastic bottle cap, a paper clip, et cetera, all on the fly.
Enter the FlexShapeGripper, which eschews metal claws for a silicone bag filled with fluid:
Fitted with this novel extremity, a robot arm could pick up everything from ball bearings to credit cards to even a set of keys:
This was developed by engineering services company Festo (not to be confused with power tool company Festool, which was spun off from its parent 15 years ago), in conjunction with the University of Oslo. Festo's Bionic Learning Network partners with universities and research centers, and looks to nature for biomimetic inspiration for industrial applications. Fascinatingly, the FlexShapeGripper was inspired by a lizard:
The chameleon is able to catch a variety of different insects by putting its tongue over the respective prey and securely enclosing it. The FlexShapeGripper uses this principle to grip the widest range of objects in a form-fitting manner. Using its elastic silicone cap, it can even pick up several objects in a single gripping process and put them down together, without the need for a manual conversion [of the gripping mechanism].
Potential use in the factory of the future: Once it has been put into operation, the gripper is able to do various tasks. This functional integration is a possible way of how systems and components can in future adapt to various products and scenarios themselves.
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