Oct 31, 2016 | By Andre

It turns out that it might not take being bitten by a radioactive spider to be able to climb up walls like Spider-Man, as a team of robotics researchers at Stanford University are using 3D printing to create a microspine gripper system, which could allow RoboSimian, a rock climbing robot, to scale vertical rocky surfaces and more.

In yet another example of science imitating imitate nature (think window climbing geckos), the team is developing a system that includes an array of very small spines that help their wall climbing robots grip into a variety of surfaces in hopes of gaining the required surface traction necessary to hang onto whatever it is that needs gripping onto.

While not an entirely new concept, as researchers have been working on developing climbing robots for over a decade, the Stanford rock climbing robots can support up to four times the weight of previously conceived climbing robots on completely vertical rock faces (take that gravity!).

Acting just like little claws, the intricate array of microspines work as a singular unit to grip tightly into any compatible surface. The advantage seems to be in quantity over size in this case. The IEEE Spectrum report notes that “they catch and hold onto rough surfaces, and while each spine is itty bitty and can’t hold much, if you use enough of them, you can support a lot of weight (or resist a lot of force).”

While 3D printing doesn’t assist from the perspective of the spines themselves, it has been used to produce the sleeve that each of the 15-mm steel spines fit snugly into (along with a spring mechanism that pushes the spines down onto the surface it is trying to grip). It isn’t clear what 3D printing method was used for the casing, but since the robot needs to be able to hold up to and above a demonstrated 55KG (as seen in the below video) I imagine it to be a nylon or polycarbonate like material that is proven to be impact and stress resistant (vs. more familiar plastics like PLA or ABS).

The quadrupling of efficiency already mentioned was achieved by using a single compliant axis, each 18mm x 18mm 3D printed tile holds 60 spines and if you put 12 of these tiles side by side you have a lot of gripping power all while having a little wiggle room between the components to engage onto any surface with more strength.

And since all of the spines are angled ever so slightly in one direction, the grip is easily relinquished by pulling back outward on the opposite angle and direction (unlike other gripping methods like velcro where the grip is reliant on a seemingly jumbled mess of clinging claws). In fact, up to 710 N of adhesion was sustainably achieved during testing.

Of course, the laws of physics do still apply to this in-lab technology, and at this stage the 3D printed microspine grippers have had some difficulty with both incredibly smooth or rough surfaces.

Going forward, the team is working with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to see how they might be able to incorporate the technology into future space missions. This is not the first time we've seen 3D printing used in the development of grip-based technologies, as we also saw these sea urchin inspired 3D printed claws which were put forward by researchers at the University of California, San Diego earlier this year.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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