The main current growth drivers of robotics are manufacturing industrial applications. In these industrial applications, the main tasks executed with a robot consist in handling or interacting with rigid items in repetitive operations. Very little industrial effort has been dedicated to handling of limp material. Sectors where soft items are manipulated represent however big opportunities for the European industry, more specifically this is the case of:

  • textile industry and the fabrication of garmentsor shoes or lingerie.
  • food supply chain, that encompasses a wide range of difficult tasks like the processing of meat, canning, packaging
or manipulation of food, fruits, vegetables, and
all sort of tasks in retail.
  • transport sector, involving the manipulation of glass fibre, carbon fibre or other materials for the manufacturing of composite parts for building structures of vehicles.

In these and other industrial fields, automating manipulation of flexible objects could contribute to job creation in the European Union and opening up new markets through innovation. The robotization of interaction with flexible or fragile objects also presents a set of very interesting challenges for research.

The ambition of the MERGING project is to design a turnkey robotic solution and provide manufacturers with an end-to-end solution for the automation of tasks involving the handling of flexible or fragile objects. It will consist of an optimized dexterous gripper equipped with an adaptive electro-adhesive skin. Electro-adhesion will increase the attraction forces between the gripper fingers and the object. The skin will also have ability to conform to the objects to handle in order to rise the contact surface. Both will allow reducing the gripper’s clamping forces and avoid damaging them, while rising the overall gripping efficiency of the so enhanced dexterous gripper. Our solution will include firstly perception and supervision functions to adapt the system’s behaviour in real time to the execution conditions and to the possibly high variability of the flexible object’s behaviour during the task, and secondly control abilities to make safer the human or multi-robot co-manipulation of the flexible object. It will also propose functions for robot system easy programming to make it accessible to non-specialists, like in SME’s.

  • MERGING Starting date: 1 November 2019