One of the challenges that researchers in robotics face is creating robotic arms and gripers that can handle objects of varied sizes and shapes. Researchers at Harvard have developed a robot that can grip, move, and manipulate a wide range of objects. The team took inspiration from an octopus and its ability to grasp and manipulate objects of different sizes.
The arm is inspired by the octopus and can grip, move, and manipulate a wide range of objects. The arm has a flexible tapered design complete with suction cups that give the gripper a firm hold on objects no matter their shape, size, and texture. According to the team, most previous research on octopus-inspired robots focused on mimicking the suction or movement of the arm, but not both.
The research conducted by the Harvard scientists combines research into both suction and bending movement. The team says that focusing on both bending and suction; a single small gripper was to be used for a wide range of objects that would otherwise require multiple grippers. The study began by researching the tapering angle of a real octopus tentacle and quantifying which design for bending and grabbing objects would work the best for a soft robot.
Next, the team took the layout and structure for the suckers and incorporated them into the design. While the design is much simpler than the biological sucker on the real octopus, but the vacuum-based biomimetic suckers can attach to almost any object. Two valves control the arm with one applying pressure for bending the arm and one applying a vacuum that engages the suckers.
The tapered design of the robotic arm allows it to fit into tight places, and varying the pressure changes the vacuum. The arm can attach to an object, wrap around it, carry it, and release it. In testing, the arm was able to pick up varied objects, including a live crab, thin sheets of plastic, coffee mugs, test tubes, and eggs.