You have, without a doubt, seen many of these industrial Robotic Arms that are used in manufacturing and even to make café or pizzas now. These might differ in size, but they all have a familiar look. What most people often miss is the “gripper,” the robot’s “hand,” which allows it to grab things with various degrees of performance.
Let’s step back for a moment and shed light on the context. After the recent pandemic, there is a worldwide shortage of qualified manpower in various industries. That has induced a high demand for automation to compensate quickly. However, many robots don’t have the dexterity to replace humans, and that’s where Tesollo comes into play.
Their robot has a 3-finger configuration that allows grabbing objects, but at least some fingers also have a suction capability to lift very small or delicate objects by air vacuum. The gripper still packs much force: it can hold 2 kg via suction and 10 kg via a 3-finger hold.
Also, each finger joint’s motor can use different levels of powers to ensure optimum grip at the fingertips. That even works if you’re trying to pull an object away from the gripper: it will adapt in real-time to maintain the best grip it can. It can do things like pinching and moving a toothpaste tube, without making a depression.
The gripper seems to be “snapping” 3D data from the environment before making its next move, and that is how it perceives the environment.
With 12 degrees of freedom, the gripper (“hand”) has a lot of freedom of motion to operate, making it easier to program than competitors with more restricted motion. Tessolo says that it only takes about 3 hours to program the gripper for a new task, which is one of the fastest I’ve heard of for this type of thing. Additionally, it is compatible with URcaps and can be employed on arms that support it.
If three fingers work so well, why not use five? It turns out that for the very large majority of applications, three fingers work just fine and make the gripper significantly less expensive and complex. However, there are cases where a human-shaped robotic hand would be useful, and that’s when the robot is programmed to use (and not merely move) tools built for humans. That use case is, however, very limited today.
As we hinted at the beginning of the article, there are many possible applications for a robot with higher gripping dexterity. This could be for manufacturing, object sorting (fruit picking, etc.), manipulating hazardous or toxic material, and more.
In the end, Tessolo’s success will depend on its performance relative to peer competitors, and so far, the company’s technology seems well positioned. You can see the gripper in action at CES 2024.