I agree I don''t know that I see an application for an adaptable gripper. But I do believe the ability of robots to pick up parts and hold them in place perhaps to be welded by another robot would be an application where this would be helpful. But on the typical assembly line the job is going to be repetitive and follow the same steps again and again without having to adapt.
This technology seems to allow for a certain amount of forgiveness in the pick location for larger objects. It would be great to have a cell that can easily adjust to different parts as they come down the assembly line. This would allow for touchup free product changes. That would be great.
This gripper--which is not the main subject of the DN article--is not designed to pick and place small chips or other tiny objects on a high-speed line. The universal jamming gripper is a very different gripper designed to quickly grasp and release, or throw, a wide variety of object shapes. According to a FAQ http://creativemachines.cornell.edu/jamming_faq_2 for an earlier IEEE article about this gripper by its inventors, not the algorithm which my article focused on, specific applications include "military robotics and improvised explosive device (IED) defeat missions; consumer and service robotics in unstructured environments like the home; and industrial and manufacturing robotics able to perform of a wider variety of gripping tasks than currently possible." According to that article, universal grippers can be used for sorting and throwing objects. One immediate use that comes to mind is end-of-line palletizing for non-fragile objects. A different (non-jamming) approach to universal grippers is shown here: http://blog.robotiq.com/bid/29474/Universal-Gripper-Tooling-for-Pre-Engineered-Robotic-Cells
jmiller, you can see and hear about the inner workings of the gripper's ball--what makes it a jamming gripper--in the video linked to in the article. The fact that the robot has to follow the same repetitive steps is secondary here: it's the fact that it may have to adjust those repetitive steps to different shaped objects, as stated in the article. That's what the algorithm teaches it to adapt to.
Yes, Ann, the adaptation to different shapes is the key component of the algorithm. I see two practical applications for something like that. First, it gives the robot a much higher margin of error when moving a product. If the product is not quite in the right orientation or has moved somewhat from where it it expected, the gripper can still get it (within reason). The second application is if the product the robot is trying to grab gets redesigned. A minor modification to it physical shape may not require as drastic of changes to the processes if the robot is still able to adapt to it.
At this year's MD&M West show, lots of material suppliers are talking about new formulations for wearables and things that stick to the skin, whether it's adhesives, wound dressings, skin patches and other drug delivery devices, or medical electronics.
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