Robotics developers have taken great strides to approximate the skill and touch capabilities of the human hand, which is a complicated process to undertake. Cambridge Consultants have come close to achieving those goals with Hank — a robotic arm outfitted with a soft pneumatic gripper with an embedded sensor system that allows it to emulate human’s ability to grasp and hold delicate objects. Cambridge believes their new platform could have applications in the agriculture and warehouse automation, where picking up irregular sized and fragile objects would be beneficial.
Hank was designed using air-controlled soft pneumatic fingers capable of flexing and applying just enough force to grip and hold different objects. Each of its three fingers is outfitted with touch sensors, enabling them to be individually controlled based on data feedback from grasping something.
Like us humans, the fingers close when they ‘feel’ an object, meaning that it doesn’t require accurate positioning when it grabs a target object. Hank is capable of locating an object, adjust its system position, and then grasp it with human-like dexterity. The robot can also increase the grip pressure if the object starts to slip from its fingers.
Hank’s fingers were created with a silicon mold, with the sensors embedded and an air chamber added during the manufacturing process. Using the material makes the fingers food-safe and easy to clean, and since they are cheap to manufacture, they can be readily replaced when damaged.
“Hank’s world-leading sensory system is a game changer for the logistics industry, making actions such as robotic bin picking and end-to-end automated order fulfillment possible. Adding a sense of touch and slip, generated by a single, low-cost sensor, means that Hank’s fingers could bring new efficiencies to giant distribution centers.” — Bruce Ackman, Cambridge Consultant’s Logistics Commercial Lead