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Dublin: 13 °C Thursday 27 October, 2016

This robot can grab items with as much care and attention as you

The gripper is made out of rubber and can pick up objects that are 80 times its own weight.

Image: Epfl

ROBOTIC HANDS TEND to be pretty rigid, meaning they’re more useful for grabbing solid objects, but the latest development could see them be able to pick up more fragile objects.

Scientists from EPFL in Switzerland have developed a soft robotic gripper that can pick up delicate objects like an egg, paper or water balloon without breaking them.

gripper thumb Source: EPFL/YouTube

The gripper is made from rubber and uses electroadhesion – think rubbing a balloon on your jumper or hair so it sticks on a wall and you get the idea – to mimic muscle flexion so it can pick up an object.

The electroadhesion ensures the gripper acts like fingertips, allowing it to grip any object without knowing what shape it is first and lift it. It can also lift up objects that are 80 times its own weight.

The researchers say this is the first time that electroadhesion and soft robotics have been combined to grasp objects.

When the voltage is turned on, the electrodes bend towards the object to be picked up, imitating muscle function. The tip of the electrodes act like fingertips that gently conform to the shape of the object, gripping onto it with electrostatic forces in the same way that the balloon sticks to the wall.

gripper thumb 2.gif Source: EPFL/YouTube

Some of the potential applications for it include prosthetic hands, using it to handle food in the food industry, and even catching debris in space, where it’s believed more than half a million pieces are orbiting the Earth.

Source: École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL)/YouTube

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