June 15, 2015

Penn Researchers Develop a New Type of Gecko-like Gripper

(June 15, 2015)  Picking things up and putting them down is a mainstay of any kind of manufacturing, but fingers, human or robotic, are not always best for the task at hand.   

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania are developing a new kind of gripper, motivated by the ability of animals like the gecko to grip and release surfaces, that is perfectly suited for the delicate work involved in semiconductor manufacturing.

Like the gecko, the gripper has “tunable adhesion,” meaning that, despite having no moving parts, its effective stickiness can be tuned from strong to weak. Unlike the gecko and other artificial imitators that rely on structures with complex shapes, the Penn team’s gripper uses a simpler, two-material structure that is easier to mass produce.  

At their current millimeter-scale size, the grippers can be used for moving smooth, fragile components, like silicon wafers or glass sheets. Scaled down, they could be used in arrays to grip to a range of rough and smooth surfaces, making them useful for climbing robots and other larger-scale applications. 

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