A team of researchers from the University of California - San Diego has developed a robotic gripper that combines the adhesive properties of gecko toes and the flexibility of air-powered soft robots to grip a much wider range of objects than earlier.
Geckos are known as nature's best climbers due to a refined gripping mechanism on their toes. In previous work, researchers at Stanford University and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory recreated that mechanism with a synthetic material called a gecko-inspired adhesive.
The team covered the fingers of a soft robotic gripper with the gecko adhesive, permitting it to get a steadier grasp on a wide range of objects, as well as pipes and mugs, while still being able to handle rough objects like rocks. The gripper can also grasp objects in various loci, say gripping a mug at many different angles.
Researchers proved that the gripper could grasp and handle rough, porous and dirty objects, such as volcanic rocks, a task that is usually challenging for gecko adhesives. It also was able to pick up pieces of large, cylindrical pipe, something normally tough for soft robotic grippers.
Since gecko adhesives are driven by molecular interfaces between surfaces, they work best when they have a large contact surface area. Coating the inside of the soft robotic fingers with these adhesives capitalizes on the amount of surface area they make contact with, making sure of a better grip.