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10 robots that can give you a hand

04 Nov 2014  | Ann R. Thryft

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Hard Arm System

(Source: German Aerospace Centre (DLR))

Building mobile, human-like robots, especially service robots that move and interact with humans, requires a different approach, and different motion control and planning strategies, from those used for stationary industrial bots in a safety cage. With its Hand Arm System, the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) set out to design a robot hand and arm more like a humans that could withstand robust, everyday impacts and store energy short term.

This highly integrated mechatronic system, which compares favourably with the dynamic, force, and kinematic properties of the human arm, consists of 112 position sensors and 52 drives. It uses variable passive compliance actuators in each joint and has a human-like range of motion, as well as size and weight. The system has 26 degrees of freedom (DOF), 19 of them in the hand. Separate motors adjust stiffness and joint positioning. The forearm contains 44 intelligent motor modules with integrated power inverters, plus power supplies and spring deflection sensors.

EPFL robot arm and hand

(Source: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne)

This robot arm and hand developed by researchers at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) has super-fast reflexes for playing catch. It can securely catch differently shaped objects thrown at it, in under 50ms—even when they come flying in complex trajectories. The arm measures 1.5m, has three joints, and the attached hand has four fingers.

Researchers created the system to test robotic designs for capturing moving objects. Robot arm designs that require pre-programming for tasks and calculating new trajectories respond too slowly, so researchers demonstrate possible trajectories by manually and repeatedly guiding the robot arm to the target. The robot uses surrounding cameras to create a model for each object's kinetics based on its trajectory, speed and rotation, and models are translated into equations. In the last few milliseconds of the object's approach, the robot arm corrects the trajectory for a precise capture, aided by controllers synchronising hand and finger movements.


(Source: Flux Integration)

Flux Integration's robotic FLX.ARM is aimed at individuals and small businesses in offices, labs or small production spaces. The low-cost precision robot arm is designed for light-duty milling, 3D printing and electronics assembly. The inventors cut the cost of manufacturing and assembly by using off-the-shelf actuators and automating manufacturing and calibration, shown in its price of under $2,300 and a successful Kickstarter launch.

The first model, FLX.ARM.S16.ZX8, is based on a closed-loop motion control platform with integrated ultra-high-resolution optical encoders for feedback, absolute positioning repeatable to 0.001in, and collision detection. Its modular toolheads include a 3D printer toolhead that integrates a metal E3D hot end with a filament drive, a pick-and-place toolhead, a light duty milling toolhead and a probe.

The robot arm has a reach of 16in in the X-Y plane and 8in in the Z plane, giving it a large workspace. The arm's FLEX.IDE design and manufacturing software has a client-server architecture for a platform-independent client and high-performance server processing.

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