Soft robotics holds tremendous potential for creating robots capable of gentle interactions with humans and delicate objects.
However, the challenge lies in developing smooth and robust devices. Fortunately, a team of roboticists at the University of California, San Diego, in collaboration with researchers from BASF Corporation, has made a groundbreaking advancement in this field by creating a 3D-printed soft robotic gripper that requires no electronics to operate.
- Overcoming Challenges in Soft Robotics Manufacturing:
Soft robot manufacturing has traditionally been complex and time-consuming, relying on pneumatic actuation and manual assembly processes that limit their complexity. Moreover, the addition of complex control components for simple functions further complicates the process.
- The Breakthrough: A 3D-Printed Robotic Gripper with Built-In Sensors:
The team’s innovative approach involved using a new 3D printing method that allowed for continuous nozzle tracing through each layer, resulting in a defect-free print with finer and more detailed structures. This process significantly reduced the likelihood of leaks and defects commonly seen in soft material printing.
- Advantages of the New Approach:
The 3D-printed robotic gripper boasts several advantages over traditional soft robots. It features thinner walls and complex, curved shapes, enabling a higher range of deformation and a softer overall structure. Additionally, the fabrication process requires no manual operations, making it easily reproducible using standard desktop 3D printers.
- How the Gripper Works:
The gripper does not require electricity but needs to be connected to a source of compressed air. Integrated channels and pneumatic valves control the high-pressure air flow responsible for actuation. The touch sensor is activated when an object is placed in the gripper’s jaws, allowing compressed air to grasp the object securely. Rotating the hand in the right direction activates the gravity sensor, releasing the air pressure and causing the jaws to open.
- Fluidic Logic: Enabling Gripping and Releasing:
The most remarkable feature of this gripper is its fluidic logic, allowing it to both grip and release objects. By turning the gripper horizontally, a change in airflow triggers the release of the object, thanks to weight detection by the gravity sensor.
The 3D-printed soft robotic gripper with fluidic logic represents a significant step forward in soft robotics technology. Its applications span various industries, from manufacturing and farming to research and exploration tasks. With the potential to revolutionize human-robot interactions and object manipulation, this gripper promises to enhance safety, efficiency, and adaptability in robotics applications of the future.