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Robot grippers are inspired by geckos’ feet

11 July, 2018

A gripper technology inspired by the feet of geckos was one of the technologies demonstrated by the newly-formed robot peripherals company OnRobot when it made its public debut at the recent Automatic exhibition in Germany.

OnRobot was created by merging Denmark’s On Robot with the Hungarian sensor company OptoForce and US-based Perception Robotics. It is specialising in end-of-arm tools and software for collaborative robots.

“Collaborative robots have the potential to become the comprehensive standard in industrial automation,” predicts OnRobot CEO, Enrico Krog Iversen. “We want to unleash this potential by making collaborative applications even easier to implement and to carry them into completely new applications.”

The Gecko Gripper, developed by Perception, is based on concept originally conceived at Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which has licenced the technology to OnRobot. It uses a similar gripping system to that found on the feet of a gecko, with millions of fine fibres that adhere to the surface of a workpiece and generate strong van der Waals forces. It can handle large, flat objects and is said to avoid the need for vacuum grippers and their compressed air systems.

Unlike vacuum grippers, the Gecko Gripper can also hold perforated or porous workpieces, such as printed circuit boards. The gripper is compatible with robot arms from Universal Robots and Kawasaki.

OnRobot's Gecko Gripper takes its inspiration from the feet of lizards

Another technology developed by Perception Robotics is a tactile gripper consisting of pair of “fingers” with integrated sensors that allow it to measure the condition of the surface of workpieces and align its fingers accordingly. Called the Polyskin Tactile, the technology is claimed to take tactile gripping to a new level, especially when working with sensitive or irregular workpieces.

OnRobot also launched a variation of its RG2 gripper with integrated force-torque sensors and a proximity sensor, which also can also detect the condition of objects. The RG2-FT gripper spots the possibility of objects slipping before this happens, making handling safer both for workers and for the workpiece. The gripper is suitable for precision assembly and is compatible with lightweight cobots from Universal Robots and Kuka.

Finally, OnRobot has upgraded its OptoForce Hex force-torque sensors, simplifying their installation and handling. Mounting is said to be up to 30% faster, partly due to overload protection built into the sensors, which no longer need to be removed and mounted separately when attaching to a robot arm. The weight of the sensors has been reduced by 20%.

The "fingers" of the Polyskin Tactile Gripper adjust themselves to the surface of the workpiece they are carrying

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