The Vexmen of Brandywine Robotics

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Soft gripping robots mimicking elephants

There was a piece on CBS Sunday Morning show this week showing some new innovations in robot design.

CBS Sunday Morning story about soft gripping robots

In the video they explain how you can not get too close to industrial robots as you might get whacked. Some ways around this are to make cages in which the robots operate but that makes maintenance a bit tough.

Another innovation to solve this is to put a sensor cover over the entire robot. When the sensor detects there is something unusual nearby it stops. That could lead to false positives and robots stopping for little disturbances or worse not stopping in time and whacking someone.

So this German company Festo has mimicked nature by making a robotic elephant trunk to make a lightweight flexible robot arm. It curves like an elephant and has soft gripping claws that can even pick up an egg without breaking it.

The soft robot is under five pounds so even if it hits you, it will not have nearly the amount of momentum a steel arm with heavy motors would have! Would you rather be hit by a noodle or a baseball bat?

Festo Elephant grip
Click on the image to go to Festo’s site to learn more about this

The system uses a series of pneumatics to adjust the air inside the trunk to move the arm in different directions. The sensors detect the pressure in each of the trunk’s chambers to know its relative position. The gripper on the end has these flexible roller pieces that collapse as it squeezes its target. It gently grips the object in its triangular grip and does not even crack an egg!
Festo gripper
Festo video of gripper picking up an egg

This is another video of the grippers

Check out the video and keep thinking.

Nova episode coming up on October 23rd

CBS Sunday Morning.