Apparently novel robot end-effectors are popular this week (see the particle jamming robot grippers), as we've spotted another: a previously-unseen robot gripper from SRI International that uses an electrically controlled reversible adhesion called electroadhesion. We've looked at SRI's electroadhesive wall-climbing robots before, where electrostatic forces are able to support extreme loads with relatively little power consumption. Several friends and I ruminated about the possibility of embedding the electrodes in a robot's gripper to ease manipulation, but it seems SRI beat us to the punch. It also looks like they're developing general-purpose, highly-compliant electroadhesive pads for a variety of applications; according to the specifications, I should be able to walk up a wood wall using a pad of less than 16x16 inches2 while consuming less than 18 milli-Watts -- cool stuff! Few details are currently available, so I will post updates in the comments as we learn more. In the meantime... pictures!
If you're not familiar with electroadhesion or how it works, I recommend taking a quick look at our old Hizook article on electroadhesive robots first, as it explains the basic operating principles. Now, there is very little information available about the new electroadhesive robot grippers -- the new project isn't yet available on SRI's electroadhesive robotics page. However, some careful Google-fu did yield a nice PDF from SRI about the new devices. Here are some photos of the new gripper:
The PDF also discusses new general-purpose compliant electroadhesive pads being developed by SRI.
Now, electroadhesives could make just about any robot gripper more functional. However, I'll be the first to say it: someone should develop a system that uses the electroadhesive pads as the compliant exterior of a particle jamming gripper! This would give the combined system added redundancy (two independent grasping mechanisms) and increase the variety of graspable objects (eg. the electroadhesive pad works best on texture-less objects that are typically ill-suited to jamming alone). Remember to cite me. ;-)
SRI has a good track record of publishing around their technologies, so I look forward to reading the eventual technical details. For those who are interested, you can find some details in the old Hizook article or these two SRI patents (one & two). From the PDF:
Electroadhesion can address a wide range of industrial, biomedical, military, and consumer needs. For example, first responders could be provided with wall-climbing robots that allow real-time and longer-term reconnaissance of buildings. In addition, wall-climbing robots can be used for military and commercial inspection of bridges, containers, pipes, storage tanks, buildings, structural walls, ducts, aircraft and ship hulls, and transmission towers.
Other applications of electroadhesion include robotic grippers, factory and laboratory automation, medical and surgical devices and supplies, and a variety of consumer products, from toys to temporary signage.
This all started when I noticed the new gripper hidden in a CNET photo gallery:
While electroadhesion is great for making it possible for a small robot to climb up a flat wall, it is also good for gripping just about any type of object. Seen here, the gripper is using electroadhesion to hold on to a banana.