This robot has an ultrasound grip meaning it doesn’t touch anything at all

A new and pioneering robot is able to grip and manipulate objects without ever touching them. This fascinating technology is based on soundwaves, and could have a huge influence over the burgeoning robotics field.

Ultrasound robot
A new robotics innovation is able to trap objects in ultrasound pressure fields, making them appear to float. Photo: Stefan Weiss / ETH Zürich.

New innovation

The robot in question has emanated thanks to the ETH Pioneer Fellowship – a Swiss initiative that aims to support technological innovation – and the work of robotics expert Marcel Schuck. The project of the German theoretician is entitled “No-Touch Robotics”, and promises to make it possible for robots to lift and move small objects without ever needing to touch them.

While the advantages of this may not be immediately obvious, it is particularly beneficial in situations where damage to small components can cost vast amounts of money. It is hoped that the robotics technology can become particularly valuable in industries such as watchmaking and semiconductor manufacturing.

Efforts have been made with conventional robotics to minimize damage to fragile objects, but the rubber grippers that are used to achieve this can also diminish positional accuracy. In order to address this, Schuck used ultrasound waves in order to generate a field of pressure that is imperceptible to human beings.

Ultrasound robot
The creator of the robot, Marcel Schuck, believes that it will have applications in watchmaking, among other industries. Photo: Stefan Weiss / ETH Zürich.

Pressure points

Pressure points are created within the field, as acoustic waves overlap and overlay one another, making it possible to trap small objects within these pressure points. Consequently, it appears to the human eye that the objects literally float freely in the air, but in reality they are trapped within an acoustic pressure field.

The technique is amazing to witness, but represents a prototype for the product that Schuck intends to develop. The 31-year-old German scientist hopes to produce a robot gripper that is entirely controlled via ultrasound. Already, Shuck has fitted an array of loudspeakers into two semi-spherical objects, created via 3D printing, which are already able to achieve the rudimentary manipulation of objects.

Being able to grip objects without touching them has other economic benefits as well, as conventional robots require different grippers for almost every new shape that they encounter. Conversely, the acoustic gripper eliminates any requirement for expensive high-precision grippers, and this could have a massively beneficial impact on the robotics field.

Ultrasound robot
Schuck here demonstrates some of the engineering and components used in the robot. Photo: Stefan Weiss / ETH Zürich.

Industry consultations

Schuck is using funding from his ETH Pioneer Fellowship in order to develop the project, with the researcher still establishing how robot grippers can be deployed in a real-world settings. “The main aim is to explore the potential fields of application and open doors within industry,” Schuck revealed.

The degree to which this area remains in its infancy is underlined by the fact that even Schuck has no idea how the final product will turn out. The scientist continues to seek industry feedback as he develops this exciting robotics project, and expects to find interested parties in particularly ornate industries.

It is expected that the robotics project will be practically available for businesses at some point around spring of next year, at which point we could begin to see robots dealing with items without touching them on a significant scale.

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