Children picking apples

‘Minimalistic’ robotic arm could be ideal for apple picking and space missions

Image credit: Dreamstime

Researchers based at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Israel, have developed a new robotic arm which could have applications in fruit picking or assisting with space missions.

The robotic arm operates much like a traditional ‘snake robot’: long, thin robots with many connected motors which are designed to carry out tasks which would often prove impractical or impossible for humans or humanoid robots, such as exploring pipes. However, this minimally actuated serial robot uses just two motors.

One motor pushes itself across the length of the robot, while the other is used to rotate its joints. Despite its simple mechanisms, it is capable of a wide range of movement.

“This unique minimalistic configuration, which can be applied to any serial robot with two or more links, reduces weight, size and cost,” said Dr David Zarrouk, who is head of the Bio-Inspired and Medical Robotics Lab at Ben-Gurion.

“This robot is easy to operate and likely has a number of applications, including space, agriculture and industry, as well as search and rescue.”

With concerns around the world – and particularly in the UK – about the difficulty of obtaining low-cost seasonal labour for picking fruits and vegetable, a number of research groups are developing autonomous robots capable of identifying ripe fruit and picking it, including systems designed specifically for cucumbers and papayas.

According to the researchers, it is also particularly well-suited to perform in space, thanks to being very lightweight. They suggest that it could be exploited to help fix satellites or for docking and refuelling to increase the lifespan of existing satellites.

“The configuration of the robot combines the best characteristics of existing robot technologies to achieve a high level of accuracy and control,” said Zarrouk. “In addition, the ability to add or subtract up to four links in less than a minute makes it possible to target quick repairs in isolated sections.”

Next, the Ben-Gurion roboticists will experiment with adding motors to the minimalistic robotic arm to increase its speed of operation, as well as finding ways to apply the mechanism to existing robots, such as in walking, biomimetic robots.

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