Woven soft gripper lifts 100 kg with just 130 grams of material

Soft robotic grippers, crafted from pliable materials like fabric, paper, and silicone, emulate a robot’s dexterity in securely grasping and gently releasing objects. Unlike their rigid counterparts, these grippers offer enhanced flexibility and safety. They’re currently under scrutiny for household robots tasked with delicate handling, such as fragile eggs, and logistics robots dealing with diverse objects. However, their drawback lies in limited load capacity and unstable grasping, making them prone to dropping items with even minor external forces.

In a groundbreaking collaboration, Dr. Song Kahye from the Intelligent Robotics Research Center at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) and Professor Lee Dae-Young from the Department of Aerospace Engineering at KAIST have introduced a novel soft gripper with a woven structure capable of gripping objects exceeding 100 kilograms while weighing a mere 130 grams.

Their innovative approach doesn’t rely on inventing new materials or reinforcing existing structures. Instead, they draw inspiration from textile techniques that involve tightly interweaving threads to create sturdy fabric, a method with a long history in clothing, bags, and industrial textiles. Thin PET plastic was the chosen material, designed to allow strips to intertwine and form a woven structure.

Gripper schematic with weave structure. Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

The resulting woven gripper, weighing only 130 grams, can confidently grip objects weighing up to 100 kilograms. In contrast, conventional grippers of similar weight can barely lift 20 kilograms. This substantial increase in load capacity relative to its own weight is a game-changer.

Furthermore, the cost-effectiveness of this soft robot gripper is striking. Using inexpensive plastic materials costing a few thousand won (approximately $2) per unit, it can adapt to objects of various shapes and weights, making it exceptionally competitive in terms of price. The manufacturing process is equally impressive, taking less than 10 minutes to complete. It’s easy to replace and maintain, ensuring excellent process efficiency.

The versatility of this gripper extends beyond PET; it can also utilize materials like rubber and elastic compounds. This flexibility allows for tailoring grippers suited for industrial and logistics settings with demanding gripping requirements or environments subject to extreme conditions.

Comparison of gripper weight to payload (maximum weight the robot can lift) for the woven gripper, soft gripper, and rigid gripper. Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

In the words of Dr. Song, “The woven structure gripper developed by KIST and KAIST combines the soft robot’s advantages with the ability to grasp heavy objects akin to a rigid gripper. It can be manufactured in various sizes, from small coins to large cars, and is capable of gripping objects ranging from slim cards to delicate flowers. This technology holds immense potential for applications in industries, logistics, and everyday household tasks.”

Source: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

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