The robot that can grip without touching

A new robot is set to be able to grip objects without actually touching them. This is being made possible by ultrasound waves. The robot is being developed by ETH Researcher Marcel Schuck and could in future be used in the watchmaking industry, for example.

Marcel Schuck is developing a robotic gripper that can manipulate small and fragile objects without touching them. Image Credit: ETH Zurich/Stefan Weiss

Marcel Schuck is a Pioneer Fellow at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). As such, he received funding for his research project in the amount of 150,000 Swiss francs. Schuck is developing a robot that can grip delicate micro-components without actually touching them. His gripper consists of two semi-spheres. These produce a pressure field by way of ultrasound waves that is invisible to the naked eye, trapping small objects in its range. Using a software program, Schuck is able to control the ultrasound waves in such a way that the pressure points can be moved around. His aim is to change their position in real time without the suspended object falling to the ground.

According to a press release issued by the ETH, the robot would above all be of interest to industries in which damage caused to small components results in high costs, for example the watchmaking industry. “Toothed gearwheels, for example, are first coated with lubricant, and then the thickness of this lubricant layer is measured. Even the faintest touch could damage the thin film of lubricant”, Schuck explains. The semiconductor industry could be another application area for the robotic gripper.

The ETH researcher’s plan is to investigate potential application areas in greater detail and further develop his product on the basis of feedback received from industry. Following this, Schuck can easily foresee establishing a company for the commercialization of his product.

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