Gecko gripper

NASA Technology Meets Manufacturing

Aug. 28, 2018
Gripping without chemical adhesives or vacuums, the future of automation is out of this world.

Scientists have been researching for years how to mimic Vander Waals forces to climb and grip smooth surfaces effortlessly like a Gecko. Recently, Danish manufacturer OnRobot released a gripper that uses this technology for industrial application of innovative NASA technology.

With up to 125 N, the four Gecko pads gains maximum gripping force. The Payload will vary per application, as surface roughness and contamination will affect it. However, in ideal conditions it can lift about 9 lb with a safety factor of two.

Since the gripping surfaces’ functionality diminishes with increasing contamination of their fine microstructures, OnRobot has developed a special self-cleaning mechanism. It is integrated under the four gripping surfaces and ensures a long-lasting use of the fibers. The technology combines piezoelectric ultrasound with an electrostatic process. Within 15 sec., it can compensate for a contamination-related loss of adhesion of 10%. Repeated cleaning and contact cleaning can then restore 99% of the original adhesive strength.

There are other features, such as a proximity sensor for feedback. Programmers can keep robot arms operating the gripper at full speed, up to a suggested 2 in. above a work piece. In the case of cobots, if a worker bumps into the machine, feedback can sense whether the piece was dropped, and the cobot can be programmed accordingly for these situations. And this gripper wasn’t developed only with cobots such as Universal Robots in mind: The standard interface makes it easy to integrate with other robotic arms such as Fanuc, Kuka, and Kawasaki.

About the Author

Jeff Kerns | Technology Editor

Studying mechanical engineering at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), he worked in the Polymer Research Lab. Utilizing RIT’s co-op program Jeff worked for two aerospace companies focusing on drafting, quality, and manufacturing for aerospace fasteners and metallurgy. He also studied abroad living in Dubrovnik, Croatia. After college, he became a commissioning engineer, traveling the world working on precision rotary equipment. Then he attended a few masters courses at the local college, and helped an automation company build equipment.

Growing up in Lancaster County, PA he always liked to tinker, build, and invent. He is ecstatic to be at Machine Design Magazine in New York City and looks forward to producing valuable information in the mechanical industry. 

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