With Electroadhesion, Robotic Fingers Are Getting Closer to the Real Thing
If sci-fi has taught us anything, it's that humans are no match for brute robot strength. But what about those tasks that require a tender touch? Scientists at Switzerland's École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) research institute have developed robot fingers made of rubber and stretchable electrodes that, according to the above video from the school, are capable of grabbing "almost any shaped object," including a flat piece of paper or an egg.
"This is the first time that electroadhesion and soft robotics have been combined together to grasp objects," EPFL doctoral student Jun Shintake said in a release. Electroadhesion is what causes a balloon to stick to an wall after being rubbed on your head. The research behind the technology was recently published in Advanced Materials.
When a voltage is applied to the electrode fingers, they bend toward an object in a similar fashion to the muscles in our fingers, albeit with very different hardware. The electrodes can conform to a given shape—offering a level of adaptability not normally seen in the robot world.
Even with the gentle handling, the robotic device is still impressively strong. The electroadhesion force gives the fingers the ability to lift objects that are 80 times the weight of the gripper. The technology could one day be used in food handling, grabbing debris in space, and even in prosthetic hands.
Images via YouTube.