Kirigami-Inspired Robotic Grippers Revolutionize Soft Robotics

In this post:

  • Kirigami-inspired grippers achieve a record payload-to-weight ratio, transforming soft robotics with strength and precision.
  • Versatile design makes grippers from biodegradable materials, opening doors for applications like food handling and surgery.
  • Groundbreaking grippers from North Carolina State University enhance prosthetics and have vast potential across industries.

A team of researchers from North Carolina State University has made groundbreaking strides in soft robotics, designing a novel robotic gripper system inspired by the Japanese art of kirigami. This art form, similar to origami, involves folding and cutting two-dimensional paper to create three-dimensional structures. Utilizing this concept, the researchers have developed a gripper capable of handling everything from ultrathin microfibers and droplets of water to turning the pages of a book and lifting weights to 16,000 times their mass.

The need for strength, precision, and gentleness in robotics

Recent years have seen the development of various robotic grippers, including those that function without electricity, are inspired by flowers, or are equipped with wooden ‘fingers’. However, the kirigami-inspired grippers from NC State University are heralded as a leap forward in this field. “It’s challenging to create a single, soft gripper that can handle ultra-soft, ultra-thin, and heavy objects, given the balance required between strength, precision, and gentleness,” said Jie Yin, the study’s corresponding author. However, their kirigami-inspired design accomplishes this balance brilliantly.

Setting new records in the payload-to-weight ratio

A key metric in evaluating the strength of robotic grippers is the payload-to-weight ratio. Weighing in at just 0.4 grams, these kirigami-inspired grippers can lift up to 6.4 kilograms, an astonishing payload-to-weight ratio of around 16,000. This feat surpasses the previous record of 6,400 by a significant margin, marking a significant breakthrough in the field—these grippers’ sheer strength, precision, and gentleness point toward many potential applications.

Design versatility and environmentally-friendly material options

What sets these grippers apart is their superior strength and gentleness and their versatile design and material options. Making the grippers out of biodegradable materials, such as sturdy plant leaves, is possible. This could be useful for applications where using the grippers is only for a limited time, such as when handling food or biomedical materials, according to Yaoye Hong, the study’s lead author. The team also demonstrated the grippers’ ability to handle sharp medical waste safely, underlining their potential in medical settings.

Augmenting prosthetic hands and expanding possibilities

The researchers tested the grippers by integrating them with a muscle-controlled prosthetic hand, showcasing the grippers’ potential to enhance the functionality of prosthetics. He (Helen) Huang, the study co-author, said, “The new gripper can’t replace all of the functions of existing prosthetic hands, but it could supplement those other functions.”

The team believes the potential applications for these grippers go far beyond prosthetics. “We think the gripper design has potential applications in fields ranging from robotic prosthetics and food processing to pharmaceutical and electronics manufacturing,” Yin added. The researchers are keen to collaborate with industry partners to find more real-world applications for this technology.

Developing these kirigami-inspired robotic grippers is a significant step forward in soft robotics. Balancing strength, precision, and delicacy, these grippers show a wide range of potential applications from medical fields to manufacturing industries. With the option to use biodegradable materials, the environmental impact of this technology is minimized. As collaborations with industries unfold, even more, innovative uses of these versatile grippers are expected to be discovered.

Image depicts the inspiration for the robotic gripper, kirigami, a variation of origami, the Japanese art of folding paper. In kirigami, the paper is cut as well as being folded, resulting in a three-dimensional design that stands away from the page.

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