Robot hand is dexterous enough to screw in a lightbulb, turn a screwdriver

How many robots does it take to screw in a light bulb? If you’re talking about a new soft robotic gripper developed by engineers at the University of California, San Diego, the answer is just one. The soft robot gripper in question is able to pick up and manipulate objects based on touch alone, meaning that it can do so regardless of lighting conditions.

“In this work, we developed a soft gripper that uses tactile sensing to model the objects it’s interacting with,” Michael Tolley, a roboticist at UC San Diego, told Digital Trends. “By rotating the object around in-hand, similar to what you would do when you reach into your pocket and feel for your keys, the gripper can map out a point cloud representing the object. Our gripper is unique in its ability to twist, sense, and model objects, allowing the gripper to operate in low light, low visibility, and uncertain conditions.”

The robot hand has three soft flexible fingers, which are powered pneumatically using air pressure. Sensors in the robot’s “skin” allow it to work out what it’s holding, and transmit this data to a control board, which creates a three-dimensional model of the object for reference.

robot hand light bulb armlightbulb

When the gripper hand was attached to an industrial Fetch Robotics robot arm for testing, the researchers demonstrated that it was able to carry out a range of fine precision tasks, such as the aforementioned screwing in of lightbulbs — along with turning screwdrivers and holding individual sheets of paper.

“[As the next stage of research,] we are interested in incorporating techniques from machine learning to allow the gripper to semantically identify the objects it’s manipulating,” Tolley said. “We are also prototyping a 3D-printed version of the gripper for more consistent fabrication. We would [additionally] like to test with a wider variety of objects that also contain uncertainty in their positioning and orientation.”

In the real world, Tolley says he hopes a robot gripper such as this might be useful for tasks like fruit picking, or potentially working as an assistive robot in the home. To reach this point, it will need to be further put through its paces with a more extensive set of real-world objects.

Emerging Tech

CES 2019 recap: All the trends, products, and gadgets you missed

CES 2019 didn’t just give us a taste of the future, it offered a five-course meal. From 8K and Micro LED televisions to smart toilets, the show delivered with all the amazing gadgetry you could ask for. Here’s a look at all the big…
Emerging Tech

Hexbot is a modular robot arm that does everything from drawing to playing chess

Who wouldn’t want their own personal robot arm to do everything from laser engraving to competing against you in a game of chess? That's what Hexbot, a new modular robot, promises to deliver.
Emerging Tech

A Japanese hotel fires half its robot staff for being bad at their jobs

Japan’s oddball Henn na Hotel has fired half of its 243 robot staff. The reason? Because these labor-saving machines turned out to be causing way more problems than they were solving.
Emerging Tech

Ford’s sweaty robot bottom can simulate 10 years of seat use in mere days

Ford has developed 'Robutt,' a sweaty robot bottom that's designed to simulate the effects of having a pair of human buttocks sitting on its car seats for thousands of hours. Check it out.
Deals

Amazon drops prices on Roomba robot vacuums by up to $150

Amazon is offering discounts on iRobot Roombas and other robot vacuums to help you get a leg-up on those chores. We've rounded up the best deals available now and put them all in one place.
Emerging Tech

Want to know which drones are flying near you? There’s an app for that

Want to know what that mysterious drone buzzing over your head is up to? A new system developed by AirMap, Google Wing, and Kittyhawk.io could soon tell you -- via a map on your phone.
Emerging Tech

CERN plans to build a massive particle collider that dwarfs the LHC

CERN already has the world's biggest particle accelerator. Now it wants a bigger one. Meet the 9 billion euro Future Circular Collider that will allow physicists to extend their study of the universe and matter at the smallest level.
Emerging Tech

Forget fireworks. Japan will soon have artificial meteor showers on tap

Tokyo-based startup Astro Live Experiences is preparing to launch its first artificial meteor shower over Japan, serving as a showcase of its prowess in the space entertainment sector.
Cars

Robomart’s self-driving grocery store is like Amazon Go on wheels

Robomart's driverless vehicle is like an Amazon Go store on wheels, with sensors tracking what you grab from the shelves. If you don't want to shop online or visit the grocery store yourself, Robomart will bring the store to you.
Emerging Tech

Glowing space billboards could show ads in the night sky

Look up at the night sky in 2020 and you might see an ad for McDonald's floating among the stars. A Russian startup is working on a project that uses a constellation of small satellites in low-Earth orbit to create glowing ads.
Emerging Tech

New brainwave reader tells teachers if students are concentrating

Massachusetts-based startup BrainCo has developed brainwave-reading headbands which can reportedly help reveal if students are concentrating in class. Here's how they're being used.
Emerging Tech

Fears about kids’ screen use may have been overblown, Oxford researchers find

Many people take it as gospel that digital technologies are harmful to young people’s mental health. But is this true? A recent study from the University of Oxford takes a closer look.
Emerging Tech

Meet Wiliot, a battery-less Bluetooth chip that pulls power from thin air

A tiny chip from a semiconductor company called Wiliot could harvest energy out of thin air, the company claims. No battery needed. The paper-thin device pulls power from ambient radio frequencies like Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cell signals.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world will take your breath away

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.