The February 2023 issue of IEEE Spectrum is here!

Close bar

Electrostatics: Good for Robot Grippers, and Lots More

Grabit makes electrostatic grippers for robots, but the tech is much more versatile

2 min read
Electrostatics: Good for Robot Grippers, and Lots More
Image: Grabit

We first covered SRI’s electroadhesion tech in 2010 (although it’s been public since at least 2008). More recently, SRI spun it out into a company called Grabit. Grabit was demonstrating an electrostatic gripper at RoboBusiness earlier this month, so we thought it might be fun to take a look at some of the more exciting stuff that SRI has done with electroadhesion, including conveyors, climbing robots, and delivery drones.

Here’s the gripper that Grabit was demoing in Boston:

Electroadhesion can introduce a “stickyness” in just about anything that you can turn on and off whenever you want. It’s sort of like duct tape that comes with a toggle switch. The flexible bits are electrodes that generate alternating positive and negative charges, inducing opposite (i.e. attractive) charges in whatever they’re close to (anything at all, conductive or not), causing them to stick. Like geckotape, electrostatics depend on a lot of surface contact to adhere well, which is a problem if you’re trying to attach to surfaces that aren’t flat. Grabit’s “fingered” gripper is compliant enough to get around that issue.

As far as a business model goes, grabbing stuff is probably the best way to actually, you know, make money or whatever. If you like that sort of thing. But there are other interesting applications, like climbing walls:

Here’s a slightly wobbly YouTube video:

Electroadhesive surfaces stick to things, but that also means that things stick to electroadhesive surfaces. Flip the gripper idea around, and you get a conveyor belt that can grab onto objects and carry them up at steep angles:

And no demo of any robotic technology would be complete without delivery drone integration:

[ Grabit ]

The Conversation (0)

The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

Keep Reading ↓Show less