Hands are hot items in the world of robots. That's one of the biggest trends out of the Automatica conference, one of the world's premiere showcases of robot technology, which recently wrapped up in Germany. Among this year's dexterous, grippy offerings is a robotic end effector inspired by a gecko's fingers. Geckos can scale vertical and inverted surfaces thanks to microscopic flaps on their feet. The flaps form molecular bonds with the surfaces of objects, and the weak intermolecular forces create adhesion.
Space junk is a huge problem in orbit. Over 500,000 pieces of debris are currently orbiting the Earth at up to 17,500 miles per hour, and we haven't yet figured out how to clean it up. But engineers at Stanford may have made a breakthrough: They've designed a robotic gripper based on gecko's feet that works in zero-g. The end goal is to use it to clean up space junk. The problem with existing technology is that everything is designed to work at Earth's gravity, within Earth's temperature range.
OnRobot introduced new robotic grippers at Automatica 2018, including the Tactile gripper. With the collaborative robot market exploding, robotic grippers will be an area of growth and increasing competition. That was made abundantly clear at Automatica 2018 where new robotic grippers made quite a splash. While market growth has an impact on the amount of innovation taking place, Lasse Kieffer, CEO and co-founder of Purple Robotics, said a shift in mindset is also leading to new robotic grippers. "End users want a collaborative robot application.
In a few years, the exterior of the International Space Station could be crawling with geckos. The robotic geckos could follow from an experiment NASA launched to the International Space Station on Tuesday aboard an uncrewed Cygnus spacecraft. The Gecko Gripper devices use tiny artificial hairs that replicate the ones geckos use to climb walls. They are designed to help astronauts to keep track of objects in zero gravity, and enable robots to crawl around a spacecraft to inspect and repair it. The bots have already been tested on parabolic aircraft flights, where they grabbed and manipulated 10-kilogram and 100-kg objects during 20-second periods of microgravity.
A robotic gripper inspired by the adhesive properties of gecko hands will soon be adorning robots around the world. We've written about OnRobot's Gecko Gripper before, but its commercial availability this year highlights the growing competition and dazzling science coming out of the niche market for "robot hands." The Gecko Gripper uses millions of "micro-scaled fibrillar stalks," which stick to smooth surfaces using van der Waals forces, which is the mechanism geckos use to climb. The gripper grew out of a Stanford research project that inspired work at the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab. NASA was exploring van der Waals forces as an effective way to capture orbiting satellites for salvage or repair.