Aiden Leitch over at Super Releaser shared this great history of soft grippers. The ability to softly handle objects is vital to integrating robotics into everyday life.
During the past 50 years, the world has seen an enormous growth in robotic technology. From the creation of Unimate, the first industrial robot arm, to the introduction of the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner, the field of robotics has expanded exponentially, creating highly versatile and efficient machines used in manufacturing, medical, industrial applications, and more. Such advancement has set the stage for certain technologies to flourish. Robotic mechanisms designed simply to grasp objects–or as they are more commonly known, grippers–are just one such technology. As robots have been applied to more and more fields, robotic gripper technology has diversified dramatically, leading the way for new approaches, such as soft grippers.
Soft grippers are just that: comprised of soft materials, as opposed to the strictly-hard grippers that the world has come to associate with robots. Soft grippers have been on the rise during the past few years, largely due to the need for robots that are versatile and can interact with a variety of environments. Applications such as medicine, food handling, autonomous robotics, and assistive robotics are all fields that demand compliant and delicate manipulation of objects. Soft grippers fit the needed criteria because through their inherent compliancy and a variety of other behaviors, they can accomplish feats that would be difficult for hard grippers to achieve. In this blog post, we hope to give you a solid understanding of the state of soft gripper technology through some of the notable grippers and developments made in the field. This will not be an exhaustive list; however, it will cover many well-known grippers as well as some lesser-known ones.