May 16, 2019

Dexterous robot Hank has a light touch but a firm grip

By Lucy Ingham

A newly developed dexterous robot, which is equipped with flexible robotic fingers, could prove invaluable to both warehouses and agriculture.

Developed by Cambridge Consultants, the robot, which is named Hank, has a novel sensory system that gives it the ability hold and grip fragile and irregularly shaped objects in a manner similar to the human hand.

Hank takes the form of an articulated arm equipped with three fingers that are hollow and moulded from silicone, which are controlled by airflows that both flex each finger individually and apply force. These are designed to respond to sensors embedded into each finger, which allow the robot to adjust its grip as needed – even if an object is slipping.

This represents a dramatic improvement on other similar robots, where the same effect is targeted using a complex mixture of vision sensors, touch sensors and grasping algorithms paired with solid pincers or suction devices.

The approach taken with Hank’s design is far simpler while being more effective, by providing a simple replication of both the soft surface and touch-based feedback in the human hand.

A dexterous robot with industry applications

As a dexterous robot, Hank has significant potential in industries where the ability to automate the collection and distribution of single, non-uniform objects is key.

This makes gives the robot particular potential in warehouses, where automation can be limited by the varying nature of the goods involved.

“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,” said Bruce Ackman, logistics commercial lead at Cambridge Consultants.

“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.”

It also has potential in agriculture, where the handling of produce such as fruit and vegetables requires a sophisticated but gentle grip.

To this end, the robot’s fingers are designed to be both food-safe and easy to clean, and can be affordably replaced as required.

Read more: Meet the Ocado-backed robotics startup bringing hyper-personalisation to restaurants

Topics in this article: