Breakthrough innovation specialist Cambridge Consultants has developed Hank, a robot with flexible robotic fingers inspired by the human hand.
Hank uses a pioneering sensory system embedded in its pneumatic fingers, providing a sophisticated sense of touch and slip, meaning it can emulate the human ability to hold and grip delicate objects using just the right amount of pressure. Hank could have valuable applications in agriculture and warehouse automation, where the ability to pick small, irregular and delicate items has been one of the industry’s “grand challenges”.
While warehouse automation has taken great strides over the last decade, today’s robots cannot emulate human dexterity at the point of picking diverse individual items from larger containers. E‑commerce giants are under pressure to deliver more quickly and at a cheaper price, but still require human operators for tasks that can be both difficult and tedious. By giving a robot additional human-like senses it can feel and orient its grip around an object, applying just enough force, while being able to adjust or abandon if the object slips.
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Other robots with articulated arms used in warehouse automation tend to require complex grasping algorithms, costly sensing devices and vision sensors to accurately position the end effector (fingers) and grasp an object. Hank uses soft robotic fingers controlled by airflows that can flex the finger and apply force. The fingers are controlled individually in response to the touch sensors. This means that the end effector does not require millimeter-accurate positioning to grasp an object. Like human fingers, they close until they ‘feel’ the object. With the ability to locate an object, adjust overall system position and then to grasp that object, Hank can apply increased force if a slip is detected and generate instant awareness of a mishandled pick if the object is dropped. Hank moves a step beyond legacy approaches to this challenge, which tend to rely on pinchers and suction appendages to grasp items, limiting the number and type of objects they can realistically pick and pack.
Bruce Ackman, Logistics Commercial Lead, commented: “The logistics industry relies heavily on human labor to perform warehouse picking and packing and has to deal with issues of staff retention and shortages. Automation of this part of the logistics chain lags behind the large-scale automation seen elsewhere. Hank’s world-leading sensory system is a game changer for the logistics industry, making actions such as robotic bin picking and end-to-end automated order fulfilment possible. Adding a sense of touch and slip, generated by a single, low-cost sensor, means that Hank’s fingers could bring new efficiencies to giant distribution centers.”
Molded from silicone, Hank's fingers are hollow and its novel sensors are embedded during molding, with an air chamber running up the center. The finger surface is flexible, food safe and cleanable. As a low-cost consumable, the fingers can simply be replaced if they become damaged or worn.
About Cambridge Consultants
Cambridge Consultants develops breakthrough products, services and intellectual property, and provides business consultancy in technology-critical issues for clients worldwide. For more than 60 years, the company has been helping its clients turn business opportunities into commercial successes, whether they are launching first-to-market products, entering new markets or expanding existing markets through the introduction of new technologies. With a team of more than 800 team members, including engineers, scientists, mathematicians and designers, in offices in Cambridge (UK), Boston (USA), Tokyo (Japan) and Singapore, Cambridge Consultants offers solutions across a diverse range of industries including medical technology, industrial and consumer products, digital health, energy and wireless communications.
Visit us: www.cambridgeconsultants.com
About Capgemini Invent
As the digital innovation, design and transformation brand of the Capgemini Group, Capgemini Invent enables CxOs to envision and shape the future of their businesses. Located in nearly 40 studios and more than 60 offices around the world, it comprises a 10,000+ strong team of strategists, data scientists, product and experience designers, brand experts and technologists who develop new digital services, products, experiences and business models for sustainable growth.
Capgemini Invent is an integral part of Capgemini, a global leader in partnering with companies to transform and manage their business by harnessing the power of technology. The Group is guided everyday by its purpose of unleashing human energy through technology for an inclusive and sustainable future. It is a responsible and diverse organization of over 325,000 team members in more than 50 countries. With its strong 55-year heritage and deep industry expertise, Capgemini is trusted by its clients to address the entire breadth of their business needs, from strategy and design to operations, fueled by the fast evolving and innovative world of cloud, data, AI, connectivity, software, digital engineering and platforms. The Group reported in 2021 global revenues of €18 billion.
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