Soft robotics is something that researchers around the world are working on. The idea is to create robotic devices that can grip strangely sized object like the rock in the image. The challenge is to design robotic implements that can flex enough to grip the irregularly shaped objects, but still have the strength to lift them.
Researchers from University of California San Diego have created a soft robotic gripper that can lift up to 45 pounds. The new gripper could be used in a variety of situations from factory floors to the ISS. The soft gripper is coated with an adhesive inspired by the Gecko, one of nature’s best climbers.
That adhesive allows the gripper to get a better grip on objects it’s trying to grab. Thanks to the design of the gripper it can lift all sorts of rough, porous, and dirty objects like volcanic rocks. Dirty objects are something that normally gives Gecko-inspired adhesives an issue.
The robotic gripper has a high-strength fabric embedded in the fingers that bend easily but resist stretching cause by larger loads. Those fingers are rigidly clamped to a base that keeps the stretchable silicone from deforming.
The adhesive itself Is made in a three-step process. That process involves molds made in a clean room to start. A wax mold of that mold is made, and the cheap nature of the wax mold allows for cheaper construction. The result is 10-20 sheets of the adhesive made in under an hour.