From the folks who brought you spray paint that turns art into interactive graphics comes a robotic gripper able to handle even the thinnest of cables with ease. Researchers from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) created a system that uses a pair of soft robotic grippers with high-resolution tactile sensors to control freely moving cables.
“Manipulating soft objects is so common in our daily lives, like cable manipulation, cloth folding, and string knotting,” according to Yu She, MIT postdoc and lead author on a new paper about the system. “In many cases, we would like to have robots help humans do this kind of work, especially when the tasks are repetitive, dull, or unsafe.” The team envisions their two-fingered gripper one day working on industrial and household tasks, doing everything from tying knots to wire shaping to surgical suturing.
Once mounted on a robot arm (which moves as part of a larger control system), the gripper can complete actions that trip up the most dextrous of humans: Sensors in the “fingers” measure position and orientation of the cable, as well as the force applied to it. The bot then adjusts, in real time, to keep hold of the cord, moving it “hand over hand” to find the end.
CSAIL’s system also easily adapts to disturbances (i.e. a twist in the line), accommodates strings of various materials and thicknesses, and can even plug a cable into a charging port or headphone jack without breaking a sweat. Moving forward, the team hopes to improve the gripper’s finger-sensor shape to enhance overall performance, and plan to study more complex tasks before eventually exploring autonomous cable manipulation tasks in the auto industry.