Traditional mechanical devices such as rigid manipulators and dexterous hands have been widely used in human social life and production. The manipulator is mainly responsible for the structural, repetitive and cumbersome work in the industrial field, and develops in the direction of high positioning accuracy, high flexibility and high speed. The dexterous hand has more degrees of freedom and precise force position control, but its control is also more complicated.
With the development of the manufacturing industry, problems such as poor interaction of traditional robots, poor adaptability to complex environments, and inflexibility have been exposed. People have put forward new requirements for bionic human hand mechanical devices, so soft hands designed and manufactured with soft materials have attracted wide attention in recent years.
The soft hand makes full use of and exerts the natural "flexibility" of various flexible materials including rubber, polymer, smart materials, and its non-linear, viscoelastic and hysteretic properties, which play a role of "mechanical intelligence" in soft hand movement and control. Thereby reducing the complexity of control and achieving high flexibility and good interactivity.
By observing existing flexible gripper products or reading related academic research materials, we can find that the working principles of flexible grippers are similar. The more common software hand drive method is pneumatic drive, which determines that the interior of each unit of the software hand is a closed cavity structure. When driven by positive pressure (> 0.1MPa), each unit of the soft hand opens. When driven by negative pressure (<0.1MPa), each unit of the soft hand contracts.
The reporter recently came into contact with a company's software hand R & D and manufacturer in Suzhou-a soft-touch robot. It is reported that Routouch Robot has completed the ten million yuan angel round financing in December last year. The investors are Mingshi Capital and Mizuki Capital, and Zeni Capital serves as the exclusive financial advisor for this transaction.
Zhang Fan, CEO of Soft Touch Robot, told reporters that although there have been a lot of related technical researches on software grippers, but want to put laboratory samples into mass-produced products, its cost, life, and uniformity are all needed in mass production Factors to consider.
In order to improve product life, the soft-touch robot has improved the basic material. Nano-additives have been added to the polymer matrix material to improve the tensile strength and wear resistance of existing flexible materials. And the research and development of materials itself has a high knowhow, because in addition to the selection and proportion of materials, the manufacturing process, environment and conditions will also affect the production effect. The soft-touch robot has applied for a patent for related material innovation technology.
Product yield and consistency are mainly related to the production process. Zhang Fan has many years of experience as a factory line project manager and knows the design technology of production lines. At the same time, Zhang Fan had previous experience in developing and manufacturing test and inspection instruments, and these experiences can help the soft-touch robot to make targeted improvements after receiving defect feedback. It is reported that the flexible gripper of the soft-touch robot mainly covers the grasping of objects within 5kg, and the average life is about 3 million times. The product yield and consistency are still being optimized.
In addition to providing a complete gripper kit (including two-finger gripper, three-finger gripper, four-finger gripper and five-finger gripper kits) and the "soft beak" series for the precision industry, Soft Touch Robotics has also launched Includes more than 30 single-finger modular design flat combination kits. The stitching design of the finger module expands the applicable scenarios and provides users with more choices. Zhang Fan told reporters that modular design is the main difference between Soft Touch and other products on the market. For the soft touch, the modular design makes the product SKU increase, which needs to improve the flexibility of the production line and product quality inspection capabilities.
The fifth-generation products of the soft robotic grippers are in the small-scale mass production and trial testing stage. It is expected that large-scale mass production and shipment will be carried out in the second half of the year. Zhang Fan said that they now cut through manpower-intensive and low-automation industries mainly through integrators, such as logistics, toys, food packaging, 3c electronics, auto parts, clothing and textiles.
The development and production of high-quality flexible grippers is relatively difficult, and this market is temporarily in the blue ocean stage, so there are not many products on the market. SoftRobotics in the United States began to carry out related research and commercialization, but it is mainly concentrated in the food and agricultural fields, and the price is high, and it has no competitive advantage in the country. Bionic products from Festo, Germany have not yet entered the stage of mass production and shipment. Domestic similar enterprises are mainly SRT robots previously reported by reporters.