Inspired by an elephant’s trunk, researchers at the Korea Institute of Machinery and Materials (KIMM) have developed a gripper robot that can grasp all types of objects. The gripper is capable of picking up and holding onto a variety of objects – from very fine or thin objects such as acupuncture needles and sewing needles to large objects such as boxes.
Pitched as the world’s first elephant trunk-mimetic gripper, it can grip an object with a pinch-suction fusion mechanism using its soft structure, stretchable-thin wall, and wires that allow the gripper to change its shape.
The gripper’s soft structure has several micro-channels that create a vacuum seal to increase the gripping force as necessary. Since each of these micro-channels is flexible, it can modify its shape to match that of objects it comes into contact with.
Wires driven by a pneumatic cylinder are located in the center of the soft structure and control the shape of the gripper when activated. By pulling the wires, the gripper can fold in half on itself, which allows for it to be used like a claw gripper, pinching and grasping the objects.
The newly developed gripper can grip objects of various sizes and materials by simultaneously applying the claw-type and suction-type gripping mechanisms. It is not only capable of gripping small-size objects, such as acupuncture needles (0.25mm in diameter) from the floor, which are smaller than one hundredth the size of the gripper, but it also can grip large-size objects, such as boxes that are 10 times its size.
In addition, this robot can pinch and grasp various objects in claw gripping mode by simply turning on and off the pneumatic cylinder that moves the shape-modifying wires without any complicated sensors or controls.
“After contacting the soft gripper to the floor and then creating a vacuum while conducting a pinching motion, the gripper can grip objects as if you were strongly pinching the floor with your fingers,” Dr. Sung-Hyuk Song explained. “In this way, even very thin objects can be easily gripped and be lifted from the floor.”
The gripper can even conduct complex tasks, such as gift-wrapping a doll, inserting a paper cake topper into the cake, stably holding matches on the floor to light candles, and even engaging in a spot of flower arranging.
“Our newly developed elephant trunk-mimetic, pinch-suction fusion gripper, which uses both claw and suction mechanisms, is soft, so there is no risk of injury even when operating it around people,” explained Dr. Chanhun Park, the Director of the AI Robot Research Division. “Not only can it handle objects of various sizes, from fine parts to boxes, without complex mechanical structures or sensors, but also it can be handled easily, which means it can be applied to various industries as well as daily life. I expect it to be of great help to the development of service robots in daily life and companies that produce a variety of different objects.”