Researchers from North Carolina State University have developed a robotic gripper capable of unprecedented strength and flexibility. This gripper, inspired by the Japanese art of Origami, is gentle enough to fold a cloth, pick up a water drop, and grab microfilms thinner than a strand of human hair, while also having sufficient strength to lift a 6.4 kg object. The team designed the gripper as part of a robotic arm for various purposes and believe it could become a vital component of consumer robots in the near future.
The robotic gripper looks nothing like the traditional claw or hand associated with robots. Instead, it resembles a face mask with multiple slits. An object is placed between the slits by a machine arm, and both ends are pulled to grab it. Jie Yin, one of the researchers, explains that developing a soft gripper capable of handling ultrasoft, ultrathin, and heavy objects is difficult due to tradeoffs between strength, precision, and gentleness. However, their design achieves an excellent balance of these characteristics.
The gripper is based on an Origami form called Kirigami, which involves cutting and folding paper into three-dimensional shapes. The researchers improved the fundamental structure and trajectory of the grippers, allowing them to approach an object from the best angle when grabbing it.
The design of the gripper enables it to balance significant strength and gentleness by distributing force throughout its structure. The strength of robotic grippers is typically measured in payload-to-weight ratio, and Yin believes that the gripper has a wide variety of applications. For example, it could be made out of biodegradable material to handle sharp medical waste.
In addition to this robotic gripper, several other companies and organizations are developing advanced robots with humanoid capabilities. Tesla has unveiled its humanoid robot, Optimus, which is intended to replace people in repetitive, boring, and dangerous tasks. Boston Dynamics has showcased its Atlas robot, which can help a construction worker by using its robotic gripper to hand him tools and overcome obstacles. Even NASA has been developing a humanoid robot called Valkyrie for space missions and workplace safety.
While the North Carolina State University researchers have not disclosed specific products or companies that may use their robotic gripper in real life, their invention represents a significant advancement in the field of robotics. It demonstrates the potential for robots to assist in various tasks and become an integral part of daily life.