University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney researchers are exploring ways of handling delicate objects. Their soft fabric robotic gripper behaves like an elephant's trunk to grasp, pick up and release objects without breaking them.
According to the researchers, this technology could be widely applied in sectors where fragile objects are handled, such as agriculture, food and the scientific and resource exploration industries.
Scientia lecturer and UNSW Medical Robotics Lab director, Dr Thanh Nho Do, said the gripper could be commercially available in the next 12 to 16 months, if his team secured an industry partner.
Dr Do worked with the study's lead author and PhD candidate, Trung Thien Hoang, Phuoc Thien Phan, Mai Thanh Thai and his collaborator Scientia Professor Nigel Lovell, head of the Graduate School of Biomedical Engineering.
"Our new soft fabric gripper is thin, flat, lightweight and can grip and retrieve various objects - even from confined hollow spaces - for example, a pen inside a tube," Dr Do said. "This device also has an enhanced real-time force sensor which is 15 times more sensitive than conventional designs and detects the grip strength required to prevent damage to objects it's handling.”
"There is also a thermally-activated mechanism that can change the gripper body from flexible to stiff and vice versa, enabling it to grasp and hold objects of various shapes and weights - up to 220 times heavier than the gripper's mass."