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Soft Robotic Gripper Developed by Engineers
Inspired by Pole Beans

Science often derives its inspiration from nature and tries to imitate the natural qualities with the help of technology in an artificial setting. More than often we find robots inspired by the features and functions of animals or certain plants where they try and imitate their characteristics in order to blend in and carry out assigned tasks.

Video Credits: University of Georgia, YouTube

In the past few decades the advancement in technology has been taking place at a rapid pace. It is now possible to create artificial replicas of most of the natural elements. A lot of scientists still derive ideas from nature when it comes to innovation.

Recently, a group of researchers from the University Of Georgia College Of Engineering have developed a new soft robotic gripper. This soft robotic gripper is inspired by pole beans. The details about this study are published in the journal, Optics Express.

Pole beans and other twining plants have a unique ability to wrap themselves around support such as ropes and rods in order to grow. These plants are able to do that with the help of their touch sensitive shoots. The researchers derived inspiration from that and developed a robot that can grasp objects firmly and gently that are as small as 1 millimeter in diameter.

The study’s lead author and associate professor Mable Fok said, “We had tried different designs but we were not happy with the results, then I recalled the pole beans I grew in our garden few years ago.”

They also added that, “This plant can hold onto other plants or rope so tightly. So, I did some research on twining plants and thought it was a good design from nature for us to explore.”

Other than Mable Fok, the team also consists of Mei Yang and Ning Liu who are PhD candidates in Engineering, Liam Paul Cooper who is an undergraduate student studying computer systems engineering and Xianqiao Wang who is an associate professor in the College of Engineering.

The soft robotic gripper is approximately three inches long in size and is made out of silicone. According to the researchers it can be useful for many purposes, especially in sectors such as agriculture, medicine and research. It can be used to carry out many functions such as selection and packaging of agricultural products that need to be handled delicately, for example plants and flowers. They can also be used to handle research samples in delicate glass tubes during conduction of an experiment.

Mable Fok said, “Our robot’s twining action only requires a single pneumatic control, which greatly simplifies its operation by eliminating the need for complex coordination between multiple pneumatic controls.”

While adding further they said, “Since we use a unique twining motion, the soft robotic gripper works well in confined areas and needs only a small operational space.”

According to the study conducted by the research team, the soft robotic gripper was capable of gripping objects such as pencils and paintbrushes. It could also get hold on small items such as thin wire of a straightened paper clip. It was also proved to be effective in demonstrating high twining sensing accuracy, precise external disturbance detection and excellent repeatability.

Mable Fok said, “This twining soft robot with its embedded fiber optic sensor forms a building block for a more comprehensive soft robot. Having a simpler design and control is definitely an advantage.”

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