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Oragami-inspired robot gripper’s delicate touch can pick up egg yolks and human hair

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By Stephen Beech via SWNS

The latest robot technology is so delicate it can pick up egg yolks without breaking them - and is so precise it can even lift a single human hair.

Engineering researchers who developed the new type of flexible, robotic gripper say the work has applications for both soft robotics and biomedical technologies.

They drew on the traditional Japanese art of kirigami - a form of origami that involves both cutting and folding two-dimensional sheets of material to form three-dimensional shapes.

The research team has developed a new technique that involves using kirigami to convert 2D sheets into curved 3D structures by cutting parallel slits across much of the material.

The final shape of the 3D structure is determined largely by the outer boundary of the material. For example, a 2D material that has a circular boundary would form a spherical 3D shape.

First author Yaoye Hong, a PhD student at North Carolina State University in the United States, said: “We have defined and demonstrated a model that allows users to work backwards.

“If users know what sort of curved, 3D structure they need, they can use our approach to determine the boundary shape and pattern of slits they need to use in the 2D material.

"And additional control of the final structure is made possible by controlling the direction in which the material is pushed or pulled.”

Corresponding author Jie Yin, an Associate Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State, said: “Our technique is quite a bit simpler than previous techniques for converting 2D materials into curved 3D structures, and it allows designers to create a wide variety of customized structures from 2D materials."

The researchers demonstrated the utility of their technique by creating grippers capable of grabbing and lifting objects ranging from egg yolks to a human hair.

Prof Yin said: “We’ve shown that our technique can be used to create tools capable of grasping and moving even extremely fragile objects.

“Conventional grippers grasp an object firmly - they grab things by putting pressure on them.

“That can pose problems when attempting to grip fragile objects, such as egg yolks.

"But our grippers essentially surround an object and then lift it - similar to the way we cup our hands around an object.

"This allows us to ‘grip’ and move even delicate objects, without sacrificing precision.”

The researchers say that there are a host of other potential applications, such as using the technique to design biomedical technologies that conform to the shape of a joint – such as the human knee.

Prof Yin added: “Think of smart bandages or monitoring devices capable of bending and moving with your knee or elbow.

“This is proof-of-concept work that shows our technique works. We’re now in the process of integrating this technique into soft robotics technologies to address industrial challenges.

"We are also exploring how this technique could be used to create devices that could be used to apply warmth to the human knee, which would have therapeutic applications.

“We’re open to working with industry partners to explore additional applications and to find ways to move this approach from the lab into practical use.”

The findings were published in the journal Nature Communications.

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