Syddansk Universitet

In the future, robots will grasp like crickets: Breakthrough research inspired by insects can give robots a better grip

Researchers from five countries have developed an insect-inspired technology that can revolutionize the production of grippers and feet for robots. The results are published in the renowned journal Advanced Intelligent Systems and may change the entire industry

By Jakob Haugaard Christiansen

It may look very technical when robots walk and grip objects, but nature is the inspiration for many of their movements. Researchers from five countries have now refined a technique that can change the entire robot industry's way of producing grippers for robots.

For the past decades, the bending behaviour of a fish fin has been the go-to standard for the industry. The new research shows that it is a better idea to skip the waters and move to insects for inspiration. So says Poramate Manoonpong, professor at the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark, one of the five universities involved in the project. 

- The traditional Fin Ray gripping mechanism has long been considered the most optimal form, and this is the first time anyone has looked at other methods. We could see that the angle of the attachment pads of the insect, like cricket, is different, he said. 

Changing the angle

The Fin Ray-based gripping mechanism, proposed by the German biologist Leif Kniese, uses transverse beams of 90 degrees in the triangular shape. By adding force, the gripping mechanism bends "inward" around the object. By changing the angle of the transverse beams in the triangular shape from 90 degrees to other degrees (e.g., 10 or 30 degrees) inspired by the insect' attachment pads, the gripping mechanism will bend even more around the object while using much less force or energy. 

- It means that we can save up to 20 % of the energy. It also means that we can take a gentler approach and use the gripping mechanism for a robot gripper to handle very delicate and fragile items, like foods, and apply significantly less force or energy in the meantime. It could have an impact on the way the entire industry makes grippers, says Poramate Manoonpong. 

Revolutionizing grippers and feet

The new gripping technology can also improve a robot's feet. With insect-inspired feet resembling flippers, robots will get a better grip and walk safely along, for instance, an oil pipe to perform inspections.

When the researchers applied the foot with a 10 degrees angle to each leg of a six-legged robot and let it walk on pipes and rocky ground, they found that the robot managed without complex control. It indicates that robots can achieve motion intelligence through the body rather than the brain.

- We have worked on the project since 2018, and are very excited about the results, concludes Poramate Manoonpong. 


Jane Thoning CallesenAfdelingschef, TEK KommunikationSyddansk Universitet / The University of Southern Denmark


Professor Poramate Manoonpong from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark
Professor Poramate Manoonpong from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark


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About the project

An international team of researchers led by professor Poramate Manoonpong from the Faculty of Engineering at the University of Southern Denmark has constructed a new generation of robot grippers and feet with inspiration from insects.

By zooming in on the foot of insects, the researchers found that it makes sense to change the angle of the load-bearing beams in, for instance, a triangular gripper. Changing the so-called crossbeams' angle from 90 to 10 degrees makes it easier for the robot to grab objects.

The method can also be applied to a robot foot, as it will ensure a more robust grip around objects such as pipes or rocky ground, where a standard round foot would complicate the robot's gait and require more energy.

In addition to professor Poramate Manoonpong and his colleague Jørgen C. Larsen from the University of Southern Denmark, researchers from Kiel University in Germany, London South Bank University, Islamic Azad University in Iran, and Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology in Thailand have contributed to the research result, which is published in the acclaimed international journal Advanced Intelligent Systems.

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