Academic journal article Science Scope

Ultrafast Robotic Arm Can Catch Objects on the Fly

Academic journal article Science Scope

Ultrafast Robotic Arm Can Catch Objects on the Fly

Article excerpt

A new robot is capable of reacting on the spot and grasping objects with complex shapes and trajectories in less than five-hundredths of a second.

The robotic arm measures about 1.5 m long and keeps an upright position. It has three joints and a sophisticated hand with four fingers. Programmed at the Learning Algorithms and Systems Laboratory (LASA) at the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, the arm was designed to test robotic solutions for capturing moving objects.

The ability to catch flying things requires the integration of several parameters and reacting to unforeseen events in record time. To obtain the desired speed and adaptability, LASA researchers were inspired by the way humans themselves learn: by imitation and trial and error. This technique, called programming by demonstration, does not give specific directions to the robot. Instead it shows the robot examples of possible trajectories to it. The process involves manually guiding the arm to the projected target and repeating this exercise several times.

The research was conducted with a ball, an empty bottle, a half-full bottle, a hammer, and a tennis racket. These five common objects were selected because they offer a variety of situations in which the part of the object that the robot has to catch (the handle of the racket, for example) does not correspond to the object's center of gravity. …

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