As robots take on more jobs in the DC, demand is growing for units that can handle a broader array of items than just cardboard boxes and plastic totes. That challenge has led to one of the fastest-growing segments of the robotic marketplace—the grippers or "hands" attached to robotic arms.
Many manufacturers address the "adhesion" challenge by using mechanical pincers or vacuum suction cups. But the Danish manufacturer OnRobot has developed another method: affixing tiny fibers to its grippers' surface and then applying a small electrical charge that makes the fibers adhere to any object.
Because engineers derived inspiration from an adhesive system found in nature—the sticky pads on the feet of lizards—they call their system The Gecko Gripper. Originally developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and Stanford University, the technology went public with OnRobot and recently won the Innovation and Entrepreneurship Award at the 50th International Symposium on Robotics in Munich, Germany.
The Gecko Gripper can lift payloads of up to 17 pounds and handle challenging items like materials with holes or porous surfaces, such as printed circuit boards. That makes the technique a good fit for pick-and-place tasks involving long flat items like solar panels, glass, and sheet metal, according to the company. The gripper is also suitable for handling ceramic tiles, screens, and the lids of cosmetic products, OnRobot says. The Gecko Gripper is compatible with robot arms manufactured by Universal Robots, Kawasaki, and Fanuc.