Origami-Inspired Robot Gripper Could Pack Your Groceries
Robots continue to become more agile, able to cope with more varied environments, and complete complex tasks, but they still struggle when it comes to picking up delicate objects without causing damage. A team of researchers at MIT's Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have come up with a solution to that problem, though, and they have origami to thank for the solution.
Rather than try and copy the human hand, MIT professor Daniela Rus, director of MIT's CSAIL, and a team of researchers from MIT and Harvard, created a new gripper. It's cone shaped and collapses around an object in a similar way to how a Venus flytrap works. The gripper is hollow and vacuum-powered, with inspiration coming from Uri Shumakov's origami magic ball.
It's Rus' desire to create a robot that can pack all your groceries for you, which means the robot needs to be able to pick up everything from an apple and soup cans to wine bottles and a box of detergent. The gripper goes along way towards achieving this because it can collapse around most shapes without damaging what is being held. It's also capable of lifting over 100x its own weight, meaning everything sold at a grocery story is within its grasp, so to speak.
The gripper is constructed from three parts: an origami skeleton, an airtight skin, and a connector to the robot allowing for control of the vacuum. It's also cheap to manufacturer and can easily be tweaked to allow for different object-gripping scenarios. It's great at picking up cylindrical objects, but struggles with anything flat, although if a flat object is presented at an angle so the corner can be grabbed the gripper should be able to cope.
The research team see the new gripper as having potential for use on production lines or in a facility such as Amazon's warehouses where thousands of different shaped objects need to be selected and packed.