Soft robot gripper guided by touch and slip

1 min read

Cambridge Consultants has unveiled a new gripping robot that uses soft air-filled fingers guided by an embedded sense of touch.

Known as Hank, the robot could have applications for picking and packaging in logistics and agriculture. Its three silicone fingers are hollow and controlled individually by pneumatic airflows in response to the embedded touch sensors. This means the effector does not require millimetre precision when picking, instead reacting intelligently as it feels an object and adjusts its grip accordingly.

Automating picking in the logistics industry is a major focus for firms such as Amazon, but much of the work is still carried out manually, as robots struggle to match human dexterity and adaptability across different classes of object. Hank is modelled on how human fingers gently grip, applying just the right amount of pressure to hold an object securely. This allows it to safely handle fruit and vegetables without damaging them.

If a slip is detected, the robot can apply increased force and generate instant awareness of a mishandled pick if the object is dropped. According to Cambridge Consultants, the sensors and grippers are low-cost and the finger surface is food safe, cleanable, and replaceable if worn or damaged.

“The logistics industry relies heavily on human labour to perform warehouse picking and packing and has to deal with issues of staff retention and shortages,” said Bruce Ackman, logistics commercial lead at Cambridge Consultants.

“Automation of this part of the logistics chain lags behind the large-scale automation seen elsewhere. Hank’s world-leading sensory system is a game changer for the logistics industry, making actions such as robotic bin picking and end-to-end automated order fulfilment possible. Adding a sense of touch and slip, generated by a single, low-cost sensor, means that Hank’s fingers could bring new efficiencies to giant distribution centres.”