Enter: the FlexShapeGripper from Festo. Inspired by the manner in which a chameleon’s tongue grabs its prey, the gripper uses a soft, fluid-filled silicone bag in lieu of a mechanical claw. This allows it to grab a wide range of different objects by doing little more than changing the volume of fluid inside the gripper’s tip. Check out the video below to see it in action:
The gripper consists of two chambers: an interior one filled with compressed air, and a water-filled exterior chamber that encloses it. During the gripping procedure, the robotic arm guides the gripper toward the object until it touches the silicone cap. At this point, a pneumatic piston moves back and vents the internal air chamber, causing the water-filled silicone tip to curl inward. While this happens, the handling system gently guides the gripper further toward the object, allowing the silicone cap to better wrap itself around a the object, resulting in a tighter fit.
This approach has a number of advantages. First of all, the silicone tip is elastic enough that it can adapt to fit a wide range of different geometries, allowing the gripper to work regardless of an object’s shape, and even to pick up multiple objects at once. Second, the high-static friction of the silicone creates a strong, slip-free holding force. Once an object is in the robot’s clutches, no additional energy is required to maintain the grip.
Fitted with such a novel extremity, a robot arm could pick up nearly anything: keys, credit cards, ball bearings — you name it. As long as the object’s surface isn’t too broad for the gripper head to wrap around, the FlexShapeGripper should be able to snag it.
Pretty brilliant, right?