Listen to this article
As part of its effort to improve robotic manipulation, Toyota Research Institute (TRI) in September 2020 unveiled its Soft Bubble Gripper. It features two fingers that both combine the advantages of compliant gripping with real-time, real-world tactile sensing. TRI said the Soft Bubble Gripper can perform a range of tasks that would be difficult for rigid grippers to accomplish.
Now TRI is seeking your help to continue to advance the field of soft robotics. TRI is sharing the design source files and full build instruction so research institutions and robotics can build their own soft gripper. You can learn how to build its Soft Bubble Gripper here.
“The soft robotics community is small, and the visuo-tactile sensing community is even smaller,” said Alex Alspach, TRI’s robotics tactile team manager and the lead developer of the Punyo Soft Bubble Gripper. “By sharing the blueprints for this gripper with the world, we hope that our friends and colleagues can test our technology, improve upon it, and take us closer to building robotic assistants that help to provide independence, dignity and joy to those with disabilities or age-related challenges.”
Most robots are hard to the touch and use rigid grippers. TRI claims its air-filled, elastic bubble design allows robots greater flexibility to hold objects better. When combined with cameras on the inside, this shape and force sensing gripper enables robots to respond to and control an object when it slips or moves.
The Punyo bubbles employ state of the art visuo-tactile sensing techniques that allow a robot to recognize objects by shape, track their orientation in its grasp and sense forces as it interacts with the world. This feedback is critical as robots learn to push and pull on the world safely and robustly while assisting people by opening doors, putting things away, using household tools, and other domestic tasks.
TRI has said its Soft Bubble Gripper builds on its manipulation research toward making human-assist robots reliable and robust. Even without the sensing capability, the stretchy material or low stiffness makes for a superior gripper in comparison with standard soft grippers, said the researchers. It can conform to a wide variety of shapes and get a stable grasp.
To inspire collaboration and further the research on soft bubble grippers, TRI hosted VisuoTactile 2020, a workshop of thought-leaders in visuo-tactile technology.