Robotic gripper actuation for high force transparency

MSc assignment

The agri-food sector is large and increasingly important with an ever-growing world population. Robotics are starting to be applied within this context to increase efficiency, product quality and variation, but still face a variety of challenges. FlexCRAFT aims to tackle some of these challenges in three different use cases; poultry processing, greenhouse growing, and product packaging.

Key to the successful application of robotics in all three of these use cases is being able to achieve and maintain a grasp. Robot gripping forms the interface between the robot and the objects to be manipulated, and hence is of key importance. Being able to successfully grasp and manipulate objects comes with its own set of unique challenges.

To reduce cost, complexity, maintenance and hygiene requirements, minimal sensing can be advantageous for a gripper. By exploiting the predictable nature of the mechanisms involved, interaction forces can readily be estimated with the applied actuator force. To be able to use the actuator states to estimate contact forces, a high transparency is required.

Next to transparency, many other criteria are important to consider, such as drive efficiency, speed, maximum actuator force etcetera. Actuation of the grippers is still an open question, and thus a thorough investigation into, and comparison of different kinds of actuators and driving mechanisms is warranted. This involves both actuators themselves (direct-drive, servo, series elasticity etc) as well as force transmission strategies (geared, capstan, belt, etc) and how these all affect the performance of a gripper.