When we were little, we discovered how, through rubbing a pen on a woolen jumper, we could lift pieces of paper and other very light objects.
Back then the phenomenon was probably only useful in impressing friends still to discover the joys of static electricity, but this same principle is today being applied in robotics to create tools for picking up, handling and transporting objects much better than we have done so in the past. Researchers from EPFL (Lausanne’s Technical University) are developing a technology first used in 2013 by Grabit, a US company, to provide electro-adhesive grippers for warehouse operations.
The Grabit and EPFL innovation optimizes the conventional mechanical arms used on assembly lines, which apply a pressure to grip, lift and relocate items that can damage fragile goods. Softer robots exist to pick up objects using a vacuum effect, but do not work for all objects.
How does a robotic arm work with static electricity?
To lift items, the new robotic arms use electrostatic attraction generated by bands to which an electric field is applied. The bands function like fingers of a hand and can lift up to 80 times their weight for any object that is not sensitive to an electromagnetic field.
The electrostatic fingers do not need mechanical pressure to lift the object and thus are the perfect tool to handle flimsy, brittle and fragile pieces. They are proving highly useful in many sectors by simplifying the mechanisms needed to carry out tasks, as well as reducing maintenance.
“They function like fingers of a hand and can lift up to 80 times their weight”
Consume less energy
These innovative robots also have economic advantages. They are cheaper to produce than conventional robotic arms and consume much less energy. In this way, they are more sustainable and benefit the environment.