Gripper Anticipate Variation in Robot Shape and Orientation

This article introduces a new approach to material handling, part sorting, and component assembly called “Grasping”, in which a single reconfigurable grasper with embedded intelligence replaces an entire bank of unique, fixed shape grippers and tool changers. To appreciate the motivations that guided the design of Barrett’s grasper, we must explore what is wrong with robotics today, the enormous potential for robotics in the future, and the dead-end legacy of gripper solutions.

For the benefits of a robotic solution to be realized, programmable flexibility is required along the entire length of the robot, from its base, all the way to the target work-piece. A robot arm enables programmable flexibility from the base only up to the tool plate, a few centimeters short of the target work-piece. But these last few centimeters of a robot must adapt to the complexities of securing a new object on each robot cycle, capabilities where embedded intelligence and software excel. Like a weakest link in a serial chain, a flexible gripper limits the productivity of the entire robot work-cell.

Grippers have individually-customized, but fixed jaw shapes. The trial and error customization process is design intensive, generally drives cost and schedule, and is difficult to scope in advance. In general, each anticipated variation in shape, orientation, and robot approach angle requires another custom-but-fixed gripper, a place to store the additional gripper, and a mechanism to exchange grippers. An unanticipated variation or incremental improvement is simply not allowable.

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