A straightforward wipe has further developed how robots handle, researchers from the College of Bristol have found.

By imitating the nuanced touch, or variable stiffness, of a human, this simple sponge-jamming device can help stiff robots handle delicate items with care.

Although robots can skip, jump, and perform somersaults, they are too rigid to easily hold an egg. Devices with variable stiffness have the potential to enhance the load capacity of soft robots or reduce damage through contact compliance on hard robots.

This review, distributed at the IEEE Worldwide Gathering on Mechanical technology and Mechanization (ICRA) 2023, demonstrates the way that variable solidness can be accomplished by a silicone wipe.

Lead creator Tianqi Yue from Bristol’s Division of Designing Arithmetic made sense of: ” In situations involving contact, stiffness—also referred to as softness—is crucial.

“Mechanical arms are excessively unbending so they can’t make such a delicate human-like handle on fragile items, for instance, an egg.

“What makes people not quite the same as mechanical arms is that we have delicate tissues encasing unbending bones, which go about as a characteristic relieving instrument.

“To ensure the safety of robot-object contact, we were able to develop a soft device with variable stiffness in this paper.” This device will be mounted on the end of the robotic arm.

Silicone sponge is a material that is cheap and easy to make. It is a permeable elastomer very much like the cleaning wipe utilized in regular errands.

The sponge can be made into a device with variable stiffness because it stiffens when squeezed.

Industrial robots might be able to use this device to grab eggs, jellies, and other fragile objects. It can also be used to make human-robot interaction safer in service robots.

Mr Yue added: ” Using a sponge, we were able to create a low-cost, nimble, and efficient tool that allows robots to make soft contact with objects. Its low price and light weight indicate great potential.

“We believe this silicone-sponge based variable-stiffness device will provide a novel solution in industry and healthcare, such as the tunable-stiffness requirement for robotic polishing and ultrasound imaging,” reads the company’s statement.

The group will now investigate how to give the device variable stiffness in a variety of directions, including rotation.