Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich and Inkbit, in collaboration with a team of engineers, have unveiled a groundbreaking development in the field of robotics. Their innovation lies in a flexible and agile robotic hand that mimics the structure of the human hand, providing a level of dexterity that surpasses that of traditional robot grippers.
Traditionally, robot grippers have been limited in their flexibility and range of motion, making it challenging to handle objects of irregular shapes. While soft grippers have offered more flexibility, they have proven impractical for everyday use. Recognizing this gap, the team set out to create an alternative solution.
To achieve this, the researchers leveraged a combination of 3D printing, unconventional materials, and a novel fabrication technique. This approach allowed them to fabricate robotic hands with a structure resembling the skeletal framework and connective tissues found in human hands. The resulting design features 19 “tendons” that provide dexterity in the wrist and fingers.
The key to their success lies in their innovative 3D printing method called vision-controlled jetting (VCJ). Unlike conventional 3D printing processes, VCJ incorporates a 3D laser scanner that detects surface irregularities during fabrication. Instead of removing these irregularities, the scanner calculates adjustments to compensate for them in subsequent layers, ensuring precision and accuracy.
To complement the VCJ process, the researchers utilized slow-curing thiolene polymers, which possess both elasticity and the ability to quickly revert to their original state after manipulation. This combination allows the 3D printed hands to bend and return to their original shape with remarkable efficiency.
In addition to the robotic hand, the team has also employed VCJ to successfully create a pump with characteristics similar to a human heart, along with a locomoting robot resembling a six-legged dog. The possibilities enabled by this breakthrough are vast, offering engineers and scientists the opportunity to fabricate increasingly complex objects and machines that were previously unattainable.
The future prospects of VCJ extend beyond traditional manufacturing processes. With this new fabrication technology, engineers can rapidly produce hybrid soft-rigid structures, systems, and robots on a scale ranging from millimeters to decimeters. The potential applications of this groundbreaking technology are limited only by the imagination of the innovators who wield it.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
1. How does the flexible robotic hand differ from traditional robot grippers?
Unlike traditional grippers, the flexible robotic hand developed by researchers mimics the structure of the human hand, providing a higher level of agility and dexterity. It imitates the skeletal framework and connective tissues of the human hand, allowing for a wider range of motion.
2. What is vision-controlled jetting (VCJ) and how does it contribute to the fabrication process?
VCJ is an innovative 3D printing method that incorporates a 3D laser scanner to detect and compensate for surface irregularities during fabrication. By calculating adjustments in subsequent layers, VCJ ensures pinpoint accuracy and a high level of precision in the final product.
3. What materials are used in the fabrication of the flexible robotic hand?
The researchers employed slow-curing thiolene polymers, which possess both elasticity and the ability to quickly revert to their original state after manipulation. This unique property allows the robotic hand to bend and return to its original shape rapidly.
4. Are there any other applications for the VCJ technology?
Yes, in addition to the robotic hand, the researchers have used VCJ to fabricate a pump resembling a human heart and a locomoting robot that resembles a six-legged dog. This breakthrough technology opens up new possibilities for the creation of complex objects, systems, and robots previously considered impossible to produce.