Soft, biologically inspired robots have become one of the field’s most exciting offshoots, with machines that are capable of squeezing between obstacles and conforming to the world around them. A joint project between MIT CSAIL and Harvard’s Wyss converts those learnings into a simple, soft robotic gripper capable of handling delicate objects and picking up things up to 100x its own weight.
The gripper itself is made of an origami-inspired skeletal structure, covered in either fabric or a deflated balloon. It’s a principle the team recently employed on another project designed to create low-cost artificial muscles. A connector attaches the gripper to the arm and also sports a vacuum tube that sucks air out from the gripper, collapsing it around an object.
Like Soft Robotics’ commercial gripper, the malleable nature of the device means it grab hold of a wide range of different objects with less need for a complex vision system. It also means that it can grab hold of delicate items without damaging them in the process.
“Previous approaches to the packing problem could only handle very limited classes of objects — objects that are very light or objects that conform to shapes such as boxes and cylinders, but with the Magic Ball gripper system we’ve shown that we can do pick-and-place tasks for a large variety of items ranging from wine bottles to broccoli, grapes and eggs,” MIT professor Daniela Rus says in a release tied to the news. “In other words, objects that are heavy and objects that are light. Objects that are delicate, or sturdy, or that have regular or free form shapes.”