Mar 15, 2022 - Technology

Get a (soft) grip

A soft robotic hand grips a package of strawberries

Demo of a soft robotic hand gripper at the International Robot Exhibition in Tokyo last week. Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Soft robotic grippers were "a laboratory curiosity" until a few years ago, but now they're "breaking into the real world," according to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME).

Why it matters: These handlike grippers have manifold industrial uses that make them much better suited to delicate items than their hard-shelled equivalents.

  • Check out this video of Soft Robotics' mGrip gripper picking up marshmallow Peeps.
  • "It's very difficult to handle these soft, delicate Peeps," says Randall Copeland, SVP of operations for Just Born, the maker of the chicks. Before the mGrip, "the only thing we found that could do it successfully was the human hand."

The bottom line: Soft grippers are "an attractive option for warehouses, food distributors, and factories with a high mix of products," ASME says, as they can move fragile objects that hard grippers would crush — like glass and baked goods.

  • "Because many soft grippers conform to objects, they are breathtakingly fast when it comes to picking up unstructured items from a line or bin, since they don’t need to spend time calculating and managing a precise approach to each object," ASME says.
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