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article imageHow many robots does it take to change a light bulb?

By Tim Sandle     Oct 11, 2017 in Technology
A newly created robotic gripper has researchers at University of California - San Diego excited. The 'friendly' new robot could help advance the automation of construction and building works.
Engineers at the university have created a gripper-style robot that is capable of picking up and manipulate objects without needing to see them and without needing to be trained. One of the demonstrations of the capability of the robot involved removing and replacing a light bulb.
Twist it, sense it, model it
According to a research note the robotic gripper is different to any seen before. This is based on the combination of three different capabilities. These are: the robot can twist objects; the robot can sense objects; and the robot can build models of the objects it is manipulating. This functionality also allows the gripper to operate in low light and low visibility conditions. The aim was to mimic how a person might operate in low-light conditions.
Development of the robot was led by Dr. Michael T. Tolley. The gripper was fully tested on an industrial Fetch Robotics robot and the combination demonstrated that the machine was able to pick up, manipulate and model a wide range of objects, from light bulbs to other tools like screwdrivers.
A sensitive contraption
The robotic gripper is formed of three fingers. Each of these appendages is formed of three soft flexible pneumatic chambers. These chambers move when air pressure is applied. This provides the gripper more than one degree of freedom (and this allows it to easily manipulate the objects it is holding, such as turning a screwdriver).
To enhance sensitivity, each 'finger' is covered with a sensitive 'skin'. The skin is formed from silicone rubber and here conducting carbon nanotubes are embedded. The conductivity of the nanotubes changes as the fingers flex, which triggers the sensing skin to record and detect when the fingers connect with an object.
The robot has been presented to the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems, which took place between September 24 to 28 in Vancouver, Canada. The theme of the conference in 2017 was “Friendly People, Friendly Robots”, looking at the collaborative partnership of humans and robots in areas like factories, hospitals and households.
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