Tactile Sensing and Grasping Through Thin-Shell Buckling

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Barvenik, K., Coogan, Z., Librandi, G., Pezzulla, M. and Tubaldi, E. (2024), Tactile Sensing and Grasping Through Thin-Shell Buckling. Adv. Intell. Syst. 2300855.


Soft and lightweight grippers have greatly enhanced the performance of robotic manipulators in handling complex objects with varying shape, texture, and stiffness. However, the combination of universal grasping with passive sensing capabilities still presents challenges. To overcome this limitation, a fluidic soft gripper is introduced based on the buckling of soft, thin hemispherical shells. Leveraging a single fluidic pressure input, the soft gripper can grasp slippery and delicate objects while passively providing information on this physical interaction. Guided by analytical, numerical, and experimental tools, the novel grasping principle of this mechanics-based soft gripper is explored. First, the buckling behavior of a free hemisphere is characterized as a function of its geometric parameters. Inspired by the free hemisphere's two-lobe mode shape ideal for grasping purposes, it is demonstrated that the gripper can perform dexterous manipulation and gentle gripping of fragile objects in confined spaces and underwater environments. Last, the soft gripper's embedded capability of detecting contact, grasping, and release conditions during the interaction with an unknown object is proved. This simple buckling-based soft gripper opens new avenues for the design of adaptive gripper morphologies with tactile sensing capabilities for applications ranging from medical and agricultural robotics to space and underwater exploration.