Robotic fingers with a gentle touch

Swiss-Japanese research has again proven to result in pioneering outcomes! Young Japanese Researcher Jun Shintake just successfully defended his PhD thesis “Functional Soft Robotic Actuators Based on Dielectric Elastomers” at the Laboratory of Intelligent Systems (LIS) of EPFL in Lausanne. Congratulations!

Shintake and his team of EPFL scientists have found a way to make the robots’ grip more  softly. This invention allows robots to lift fragile things like eggs, flat sheets of paper or objects of arbitrary shape and stiffness.

How does it work? The grip makes use of electroadhesion, better known to a wide public as electrostatic stickiness, the same phenomenon which makes a rubber balloon stick to a wall after rubbing it on hair. Flexible electronic flaps are placed on top of an object, then, after switching on the gripper, electrostatic forces are generated throughout the electrodes. Similar to muscle flexion, the flaps now bend towards the object and its tips grab the object with a touch as soft as the one of fingertips. The electroadhesion allows a very strong lifting capacity, which means that the flaps can lift weights up to one hundred times their own.

The revolutionary research combining two technologies, namely artificial muscles and electroadhesion, might take robotics to a whole new level. Jun Shintake will continue his research at LIS as a Postdoc and we can be expecting more great research outcomes! (Pictures Source: EPFL)

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