New-tech grippers hit the market

13 January 2014

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Empire Robotics, a Boston-based start-up, is beginning to sell their VERSABALL kits, a new-tech jamming gripper enabling adaptive gripping operations with a single inexpensive tool.

Filled with a granular material, in one mode it is squishy enough to envelop an object. Then, when a vacuum is created inside the ball, the granules get pulled together, solidifying around the object. The unique design enables the gripper to pick up a wide range of different objects, which can weigh up to 20 pounds. Early work was done in partnership with iRobot of Bedford, and funded by the Pentagon’s R&D arm, DARPA. Cornell holds the patent.

Grabit, a Silicon Valley new-tech gripper start-up, is working with customers on development projects to perfect their new electroadhesion technology. Electroadhesion is an electrically controllable adhesion technology that requires ultra-low power consumption. The technology was developed and patented SRI International. Grabit’s products include grippers and fixtures, case and box handling grippers, and smart conveyors for manufacturing and logistics.

Grippers – the hands of robots – are the physical interface between the robot arm and the work piece. Up until these two start-ups, there used to only be four types of grippers: vacuum, pneumatic, hydraulic and servo-electric (or, for the more technical reader, impactive, ingressive, astrictive or contigutive).

Often combined with clamping, gripper manufacturers abound, but Schunk, a family-run German company, has been at the forefront of the industry. They will soon be bringing to market a 5-fingered hand with sensors on each finger’s pads, for intricate work.

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Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.
Frank Tobe is the owner and publisher of The Robot Report, and is also a panel member for Robohub's Robotics by Invitation series.

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