Gripping modelled on a chameleon’s tongue

The chameleon is able to catch a variety of different insects by putting its tongue over the respective prey and securely enclosing it. The FlexShapeGripper uses this principle to get a form-fitting grip on a wide range of objects. With its elastic silicone cap, it can even pick up several objects in a single gripping action and set them down together, without the need for manual conversion.

The bionic gripper consists of a double-acting cylinder, of which one chamber is filled with compressed air whilst the other is permanently filled with water. This second chamber is fitted with the elastic silicone moulding, which corresponds to the chameleon’s tongue. The volume of the two chambers is designed to compensate for the deformation of the silicone part.

Form-fitting gripping thanks to inversion

During the gripping procedure, a handling system guides the gripper across the object so that it touches the object with its silicone cap. The top pressurised chamber is then vented, and the water-filled silicone part pulls itself inwards. At the same time, the handling system guides the gripper further over the object. In doing so, the silicone cap wraps itself around the object being gripped, resulting in a close and secure fit for any shape. The elastic silicone allows precise adaptation to a wide range of different geometries. The high static friction of the material generates a strong holding force.

Potential use in the factory of the future

Whether on a handling system or on the arm of a robot, the gripper can perform various tasks once it has been put into operation. This functional integration is one possible way in which systems and components themselves will be able to adapt to various products and scenarios in future. The project also shows how we gain new insights from nature for our core business of automation.

New impetus through open innovation

The aims of the Bionic Learning Network involve more than just learning from nature, however. Early recognition and fostering of good ideas also plays a major part. The FlexShapeGripper came about through a cooperation with Oslo and Akershus University and is an outstanding example of close collaboration beyond the boundaries of a company.