A particularly active area of robotics research is the study of soft tissue. Whether legs, artificial muscles or grippers for gripping objects, these deformable components open up new possibilities and make machines safer for people to work. Now they get a helping hand from the gecko's amazing adhesive properties, which morph into robot-like fingers that tower far above their weight.
Adhesives that can be turned on and off, grippers that cling to space debris, and anchors that can be used by astronauts outside the International Space Station are just a few of the potential gecko-inspired technologies. These clever creatures use millions of microscopic hairs on their feet and legs to bond to surfaces at the molecular level, giving them incredible hold.
Researchers at Stanford University, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) have now used photolithography to develop a synthetic material that mimics the gecko's natural grasping abilities and gecko coating can be used fingers of a soft robot gripper.
The 3D printed system uses stretchable silicone embedded in the finger with a high strength fabric that allows it to flex but not stretch out of shape when dealing with heavier loads. The fingers are firmly attached to a base and form a mixture of soft and stiff materials that allow the gripper to adapt to different shaped objects and withstand large forces.
And because the gecko-inspired molecular reactions on larger surfaces are more effective, the properties of the material are a particularly effective coating for soft robotic grippers that adapt to differently shaped objects, as there is a larger surface area to work with.
Through the development of control algorithms that allow the robot to distribute the right force over the entire length of his fingers, the team received a gripper that can lift various objects in different positions weighing up to 45 pounds kg ). These include rough, porous objects such as volcanic rock, smoother objects such as cylindrical pipes and everyday items such as coffee mugs and tomatoes.
"We have found that these two components, Soft Robotics and Gecko Adhesives, complement each other very well," said Paul Glick, the first author and PhD candidate at the Institute of Bioinspired Robotics and Design at UCSD.
From here, Glick and his colleagues plan to develop algorithms that really take advantage of the adhesives, while at the same time exploring the potential for using the gripper in weightlessness environments and in space.
In the video below you can see the gecko-inspired robot gripper, while the research was published in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters .
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