WO2015123128A1 - Jamming grippers and methods of use - Google Patents

Jamming grippers and methods of use Download PDF

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Publication number
WO2015123128A1
WO2015123128A1 PCT/US2015/014970 US2015014970W WO2015123128A1 WO 2015123128 A1 WO2015123128 A1 WO 2015123128A1 US 2015014970 W US2015014970 W US 2015014970W WO 2015123128 A1 WO2015123128 A1 WO 2015123128A1
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WO
WIPO (PCT)
Prior art keywords
head
gripper
volume
base
coupling
Prior art date
Application number
PCT/US2015/014970
Other languages
French (fr)
Inventor
Patrick R. Dingle
John R. AMEND, Jr.
William C. CULLEY
Nadia G. CHENG
Samuel O. NASEEF
Original Assignee
Empire Robotics, Inc.
Priority date (The priority date is an assumption and is not a legal conclusion. Google has not performed a legal analysis and makes no representation as to the accuracy of the date listed.)
Filing date
Publication date
Priority to US201461938280P priority Critical
Priority to US61/938,280 priority
Priority to US201462083609P priority
Priority to US62/083,609 priority
Application filed by Empire Robotics, Inc. filed Critical Empire Robotics, Inc.
Publication of WO2015123128A1 publication Critical patent/WO2015123128A1/en

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Classifications

    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J15/00Gripping heads and other end effectors
    • B25J15/0023Gripper surfaces directly activated by a fluid
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J15/00Gripping heads and other end effectors
    • B25J15/04Gripping heads and other end effectors with provision for the remote detachment or exchange of the head or parts thereof
    • B25J15/0408Connections means
    • B25J15/0433Connections means having gripping members
    • BPERFORMING OPERATIONS; TRANSPORTING
    • B25HAND TOOLS; PORTABLE POWER-DRIVEN TOOLS; MANIPULATORS
    • B25JMANIPULATORS; CHAMBERS PROVIDED WITH MANIPULATION DEVICES
    • B25J15/00Gripping heads and other end effectors
    • B25J15/04Gripping heads and other end effectors with provision for the remote detachment or exchange of the head or parts thereof
    • B25J15/0408Connections means
    • B25J15/0441Connections means having vacuum or magnetic means

Abstract

The gripper can include a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material and a base configured to releasably and fluidly couple to the head. The base can include a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume, and a second passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a venturi vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume. The base can further include a first control device in fluid communication with the first passage and configured to control a flow of fluid into the volume, and a second control device in fluid communication with the second passage and configured to control the partial vacuum to the volume.

Description

JAMMING GRIPPERS AND METHODS OF USE
DESCRIPTION
RELATED APPLICATIONS
[001] This application claims the benefit of U.S. Provisional Application No. 61/938,280, filed February 1 1 , 2014, and U.S. Provisional Application No.
62/083,609, filed November 24, 2014, each of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entirety.
TECHNICAL FIELD
[002] The present disclosure is directed towards the field of robotics, and more particularly, robotic grippers and methods thereof for grasping and releasing an object, and applications thereof.
BACKGROUND
[003] Grasping, holding, releasing, and manipulating an object(s) are common tasks in robotic applications. However attempting these operations is sometimes difficult for traditional grippers if the object(s) varies in shape, size, or orientation. For example, the operations may require a multi-fingered robotic gripper that includes complex and costly actuators, processors or optics. As a result, development of universal grippers capable of picking up objects of different geometries and orientations are being actively pursed.
[004] A simpler solution is a jamming gripper that can use a mass of granular material enclosed in a flexible material. When pressed onto a target object, the flexible material deforms about the object and the granular material flows around the object, conforming to the object's shape. Applying a vacuum causes the granular material to contract and harden, enabling grasping of the object. One such jamming gripper and method of use is described in U.S. Patent Application
Publication No. 2013/0106127. Another type of gripper is described in PCT
Publication No. WO 2006/082100.
[005] Despite the development and advancement of jamming grippers, there are some limitations that have prevented their widespread adoption by the market. Some of the limitations include, for example, durability of the components, payload capacity, speed, noise, and cost. In view of the foregoing limitations, the present disclosure provides improved jamming grippers and methods of use.
SUMMARY
[006] In one aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a gripper, comprising a head including a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material, and a base configured to releasably and fluidly couple to the head. The base can comprise a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume, a second passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a venturi vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume. The base can further comprise a first control device in fluid communication with the first passage and configured to control a flow of fluid into the volume and a second control device in fluid communication with the second passage and configured to control the partial vacuum to the volume.
[007] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a base for a modular robotic gripper, configured to releasably couple to a head containing a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material, comprising a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume, a second passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a venturi vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum and the venturi vacuum generator is further in fluid communication with the outlet port and the volume. The base can further comprise a first control device in fluid communication with the first passage and the volume and a second control device in fluid communication with the second passage and the volume.
[008] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a head for a modular robotic gripper, comprising a flexible membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material, a filter in fluid communication with the volume, and a collar configured to releasably couple to at least one of a base, a mounting plate, and a robotic member, wherein the collar includes a passage in fluid communication with the volume and configured to receive the filter.
[009] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a method of grasping an object using a gripper, comprising coupling a base to a head that includes a membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material and applying a vacuum to the head to create a partial vacuum in the volume to decrease the fluidity of the flowable material and to grasp the object.
[010] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a robot end effector. The robot end effector may include a first component configured to couple to the robot and a second component configured to couple to the first component. The robot end effector may also include a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the first component to the second component. The coupling mechanism may be configured to couple the first component and the second component as a result of a movement of at least one of the first component and the second component toward the other, thereby by engaging the coupling mechanism. The coupling mechanism may also be configured to maintain an open position when the first component and the second component are decoupled, and then passively and reversibly transition to a coupled position by the movement.
[011] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a gripper. The gripper may include a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material. The gripper may also include a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to a mounting component. The coupling mechanism may include two or more latches. Each latch may include a roller attached to a latch body, a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate, and a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body. The coupling mechanism may also include a rim formed on the head. The rim may have an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the head and the mounting component. The rim may also have a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling.
[012] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a gripper. The gripper may include a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material. The gripper may also include a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to a mounting component. The coupling mechanism may include a first set of magnets positioned at an upper surface of the head, a second set of magnets positioned at a lower surface of the mounting component corresponding to the first set of magnets. The coupling mechanism may also include one or more levers associated with the first set of magnets or the second set of magnets and configured such that a movement of the one or more levers causes rotation of the set of magnets. The magnetic attraction force may maintain the position of the head relative to the mounting component when the first set of magnets and the second set of magnets are aligned, and movement of the one or more levers is configure to cause rotation of the set of magnets and the substantial reduction of the magnetic attraction force, thereby facilitating the uncoupling of the head from the mounting component.
[013] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a method of replacing a first head coupled to a mounting component of a gripper with a second head, wherein the gripper may be attached to a robotic arm. The method may include moving the robotic arm in order to position the gripper within a fixture. The method may also include releasing the first head by moving the robotic arm relative to the fixture such that the fixture displaces a portion of a coupling mechanism associated with the mounting component, wherein displacement of the portion of the coupling mechanism causes rotation of one or more latches attached to the mounting component that secure the head to the mounting component. The method may further include positioning the mounting component relative to the second head such that the latches substantially align with a rim of the second head. The method may also include moving the robotic arm toward the mounting component so that the mounting component engages the rim of the second head displacing the latches until reaching a coupled position.
[014] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a coupling mechanism for releasably coupling a first component and a second component. The coupling mechanism may include two or more latches attached to an end of the first component. Each latch may include a roller attached to a latch body, a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate, and a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body. The coupling mechanism may also include a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that displacement of the connecting element toward the first component causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member. The coupling mechanism may also include a rim formed at an end of the second component. The rim may have an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the first and the second component, and a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling. The coupling mechanism may be configured to couple the first component to the second component as a result of movement of either the base or the head toward the other of the base or the head, and uncouple the first component from the second component as a result of movement of the first component relative to a fixture.
[015] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a head for a modular robotic gripper. The head may include a flexible membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material. The head may also include a passage in fluid communication with the volume and a collar surrounding the passage. The collar may be configured to releasably couple by way of a coupling mechanism to a mounting component. The coupling mechanism may include two or more latches attached to a base. Each latch may include a roller attached to a latch body, a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate, and a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body. The coupling mechanism may also include a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that displacement of the connecting element toward the first component causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member. The coupling mechanism may also include a rim formed on the head. The rim may include an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the head and the base, and a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling.
[016] In another aspect, the present disclosure is directed to a gripper. The gripper may include a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material. The gripper may also include a base having a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume. The base may also have a second passage, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume. The gripper may also include a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to the base. The coupling mechanism may be configured to couple the head to the base as a result of a movement of the base or the head toward the other of the base or the head, and decouple the head from the base as a result of movement of the base relative to a fixture.
[017] Additional objects and advantages of the present disclosure will be set forth in part in the description which follows, and in part will be obvious from the description, or may be learned by practice of the present disclosure. The objects and advantages of the present disclosure will be realized and attained by means of the elements and combinations particularly pointed out in the appended claims.
[018] It is to be understood that both the foregoing general description and the following detailed description are exemplary and explanatory only and are not restrictive of the present disclosure as claimed.
[019] The accompanying drawings, which are incorporated in and constitute a part of this specification, illustrate several embodiments of the present disclosure and together with the description, serve to explain the principles of the present disclosure.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
[020] FIG. 1 is a drawing of an assembled gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[021] FIG. 2A is a drawing of a detached gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[022] FIG. 2B is a cross sectional drawing of a head, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[023] FIG. 2C is a cross sectional drawing of a head, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[024] FIG. 3 is an isometric view of a base, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[025] FIG. 4 is a side view of an assembled gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment; [026] FIG. 5 is a side view of an assembled gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[027] FIG. 6 is a drawing of an assembled gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[028] FIG. 7A is isometric view of a mounting plate, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[029] FIG. 7B is a top view of FIG. 7A, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[030] FIG. 7C is a bottom view of FIG. 7A, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[031] FIG. 7D is a front elevation view of FIG. 7A, which is identical to the back view and side views, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[032] FIG. 8A is a flow schematic of a gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[033] FIG. 8B is a flow schematic of a gripper, according to another exemplary embodiment;
[034] FIG. 9 is a schematic drawing illustrating a gripper grasping an object, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[035] FIG. 10A is an isometric cross-sectional view of a base, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[036] FIG. 10B is a partial see-through of a base, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[037] FIG. 1 1 is a flow schematic of a gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[038] FIG. 12 is a side view of an assembled gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[039] FIG. 13 is a flow chart of a method of grasping an object, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[040] FIG. 14 is a side perspective view of an uncoupled gripper base and head, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[041] FIG. 15 is a side cross-sectional view of an uncoupled gripper base and head, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[042] FIG. 16 is an enlarged cross-sectional view of a portion of a gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment; [043] FIG. 17 is a side view drawing of a portion of a gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[044] FIG. 18 is a side view drawing of a portion of a gripper, according to an an exemplary embodiment;
[045] FIG. 19 is a perspective cross-sectional view of a gripper, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[046] FIG. 20 is a side perspective view of an uncoupled gripper base and head, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[047] FIG. 21 is a perspective view of a gripper and a robotic arm, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[048] FIG. 22 is a perspective view of a gripper, a robotic arm, and a fixture, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[049] FIG. 23 is an isometric view of a fixture, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[050] FIG. 24 is a perspective view of a gripper, a robotic arm, and a fixture, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[051] FIG. 25 is a perspective view of a gripper, a suction gripper, a robotic arm, and a fixture, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[052] FIG. 26 is a perspective view of an uncoupled gripper head and latching plate, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[053] FIG. 27A is a perspective view of an uncoupled gripper head and latching plate, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[054] FIG. 27B is a close of view of a latching plate, according to an exemplary embodiment;
[055] Fig. 28 is a left perspective view of a robotic lid atop a robotic gripper while attached to a robotic arm;
[056] Fig. 29 is a top perspective view of a collar showing our new design;
[057] Fig. 30 is a bottom perspective view thereof;
[058] Fig. 31 is a front elevation view thereof, the rear, left, and right views being identical;
[059] Fig. 32 is a top plan view thereof;
[060] Fig. 33 is a bottom plan view thereof;
[061] Fig. 34 is a top perspective view of a collar showing our new design;
[062] Fig. 35 is a bottom perspective view thereof; [063] Fig. 36 is a front elevation view thereof, the rear, left, and right sides being identical;
[064] Fig. 37 is a top plan view thereof;
[065] Fig. 38 is a bottom plan view thereof;
[066] Fig. 39 is a front elevation view of a collar while attached to a robotic gripper; and
[067] Fig. 40 is a front elevation view of a collar while attached to a robotic gripper.
[068] The broken lines of uneven length define the boundary of the claimed design. The broken lines of even length show environment, and the elements depicted in broken lines of even length are not part of the claimed design.
[069] Reference will now be made in detail to the present embodiments of the present disclosure, examples of which are illustrated in the accompanying drawings. Wherever possible, the same reference numbers will be used throughout the drawings to refer to the same or like parts.
DETAILED DESCRIPTION
[070] The present disclosure is described herein with reference to illustrative embodiments. It is understood that the embodiments described herein are not limited thereto. Those having ordinary skill in the art and access to the teachings provided herein will recognize additional modifications, applications, embodiments, and substitution of equivalents that all fall with the scope of the present disclosure. Accordingly, the present disclosure is not limited by the foregoing or following descriptions.
[071] A gripper, according to various embodiments described herein, can utilize a flexible membrane that partially defines a volume containing a flowable material. The flowable material can include a plurality of granular particles, for example, coffee grounds, sand, etc. At atmospheric pressure, the flowable material can assume a fluid-like phase such that it can move, flow, or pour. When a vacuum is applied to the volume, the flowable material can undergo a jamming transition (e.g., a pseudo phase-change) and can transition into a more solid-like phase. When the vacuum is released, the flowable material can transition to the fluid-like phase, which can be facilitated by the application of positive pressure (e.g., See U.S. Patent Application Publication No. 2013/0106127).
[072] The gripper, as described herein may be an end effector configured to attach to a robotic member or robotic arm. The gripper can vary in shape, size, and material. Moreover, the gripper disclosed herein may be modular and components may releasably couple to one another. Additionally, the gripper may be configured to operate with improved speed, noise, durability, energy efficiency, or object lifting ability.
[073] FIG. 1 shows a gripper 100, according to an exemplary embodiment. Gripper 100 can comprise a head 1 10 configured to releasably and fluidly couple to a mounting component, for example, a base 120. While FIG. 1 shows head 1 10 and base 120 coupled, head 1 10 and base 120 can be decoupled, as shown in FIG. 2A.
[074] Head 1 10 can comprise a membrane 1 1 1 that at least partially defines a volume 1 15 enclosed by membrane 1 1 1. Membrane 1 1 1 , undeformed can form a generally spherical shape, as shown in FIG. 1. In other embodiments, membrane 1 1 , undeformed can form other shapes. For example, the membrane can be generally square, triangle, pentagon, cylinder, trapezoid, quadrilateral, octagon, oval, ellipse, or other shape. Membrane 1 1 1 can include dimples, protrusion, valleys, and other geometric surface features disposed on the interior of the membrane, exterior of the membrane, or both. In addition, the undeformed volume of membrane 1 1 1 can vary. For example, volume 1 15 encompassed by membrane 1 1 1 , can have a diameter undeformed ranging from less than about 1 inch to about 12 inches. In some embodiments, a diameter of about 3.5 or about 6.5 inches can be used for many of the intended applications and can be suitable for a majority of commercial robotic members (e.g., arms, couplings, attachments, brackets, etc.).
[075] Membrane 1 1 1 can be at least partially formed from a material that is flexible. For example, membrane 1 1 1 can be made of one or more of the following: a vinyl, an elastomeric material, a coated cloth, a polyester film (e.g. , Mylar), a metal foil, or combinations thereof. Elastomeric materials may include any of, or combinations of, silicone, latex, polychloroprene, nitrile, butyl rubber, or other elastomeric materials. Membrane 1 1 1 can include a surface texture, for example, waves, bumps, grooves, etc. At least a portion of membrane 1 1 1 can be coated. For example, the coating can increase the thickness of certain areas to benefit durability, friction, or sealing. Also, membrane 111 can have a variable thickness. For example, the portion most frequently contacting object can be thicker to allow for increased abrasion resistance.
[076] Head 1 10 can further comprise a collar 1 12, as shown in FIGS. 1 and 2A. Membrane 1 11 can be coupled to collar 1 12 via a suitable mechanical coupling. Collar 1 12 can be configured to provide structural support to at least a portion of membrane 11 1. Collar 112 can extend at least partially around a region of membrane 11 1. In addition, collar 1 12 can include a surface feature (e.g., lip, recess, slot, etc.) to facilitate coupling to a mounting component, for example base 120 or a robotic member. In other embodiments, membrane 1 11 can couple directly to a mounting component, for example base 120, such that the collar 112 is incorporated into the mounting component. Collar 112 can include an exterior collar 1 12A and an interior collar 1 12B, as shown in FIG. 2B.
[077] Interior collar 1 12B can be at least partially positioned within membrane 11 1 , while exterior collar 1 12A can be at least partially positioned exterior to membrane 11 1. To secure membrane 1 11 , a portion 1 1 A of membrane 11 can pass between a surface of exterior collar 1 12A and an adjacent surface of interior collar 1 12B. Portion 1 11 A of membrane 1 1 can be pinched between the two surfaces by coupling exterior collar 112A to interior collar 112B. Exterior collar 112A and interior collar 112B can be coupled using fasteners (e.g., bolts, screws, etc.) or other fastening mechanism (e.g., glue).
[078] To create a vacuum-tight seal between exterior collar 112A, interior collar 1 12B, and membrane 111 a first O-ring 1 18 or gasket can be used. O-ring 118 can be compressed between exterior collar 112A and interior collar 1 12B sealing the surfaces of each with membrane 11 1. In another embodiment, O-ring 1 18 can be formed as an integral part of membrane 1 1 1. In yet another
embodiment, portion 1 11 A of membrane 1 11 can be thicker to enable it to act as a sealing gasket, eliminating the need for a separate or integral O-ring. In addition, portion 111 A could be formed of a different material than the remaining portion of membrane 1 1 1. For example, portion 111 A can be formed of a compressible sealing material (e.g., EPDM, VITON, Buna, etc.)
[079] As shown in FIG. 2B, head 1 10 can include an opening 114 extending from an upper surface 1 19 down into volume 115. Opening 1 14 can be configured to provide fluid communication between head 110 and base 120. In some embodiments, a filter 1 16 and a disc 113 may be inserted into opening 1 14. This may decrease the diameter of opening 114, but retain fluid communication between head 110 and base 120. Opening 114 can be concentric to disc 1 13, collars 112, and undeformed membrane 1 11. Opening 1 14 can be configured to allow ingress and egress of a fluid into and out of volume 115. The diameter of opening 1 14 can range from less than about 1/8 inch to about 3/4 inch or more. In various
embodiments, the diameter of opening 1 14 can be configured to correspond to volume 115, such that adequate flow through opening 1 14 can be achieved with regard to the volume of volume 115.
[080] As shown in FIG. 2B, filter 1 16 can be inserted into interior collar 12B with a portion of filter 116 extending down into volume 1 15. Disc 113 can be inserted above filter 1 16 into opening 114. As shown in FIG. 2B, a portion of disc 113 can extend into the center cavity of filter 116 and can be configured to form a press fit connection. The seam between filter 116, interior collar 112B, and disc 1 13 can be sealed around the circumference with a second O-ring 113A or gasket. Disc 113 can be secured in position by various mechanisms, for example, a press fit, a snap fit connection, glue, threading in place, or fasteners (e.g., bolts, screws, or pins). The seal produced between exterior collar 1 12A, interior collar 112B, membrane 11 1 , filter 1 16, and disc 113 can be airtight (evacuable).
[081] In other embodiments, it is contemplated that disc 1 13 can be formed of a rubber (e.g., VITON, EPDM, Buna, etc.). Disc 113 may act as the seal between exterior collar 1 12A, interior collar 112B, membrane 1 11 , and filter 116. For example, disc 113 can be configured to seal when head 110 is coupled to base 120 causing disc 1 13 to compress.
[082] In other embodiments, head 1 10 can comprise more than one opening to volume 115. For example, head 1 10 can include an inlet opening for supplying positive pressure and an outlet opening for applying a vacuum. It is also contemplated that more than two openings can be utilized. For example, a third opening could be used as an exhaust or pressure release line in other embodiments.
[083] Head 1 10 can further comprise a flowable material 1 17 disposed within membrane 111 , as shown in FIG. 2B. Flowable material 1 17 can include at least one of individual solid granules or grains made from any type of metallic, insulating or semiconducting solid, including one or any combination of one or more of plastic or polymeric particles, coffee grounds, corn starch, ground glass, sand (e.g., coral, volcanic, glass, gypsum, silica, pumice, garnet, olivine, biogenic, continental, and quartz), rice, sawdust, crushed nut shells, metal filings, dried ground com husks, seeds, rocks, desert sand, lithic sand, and others known in the art. At atmospheric pressure flowable material 1 17 can be in a fluid-like phase such that it can flow, pour, or even splash. Whereas, when a vacuum is applied, flowable material 1 17 can undergo a jamming transition (e.g., a pseudo-phase transition) into a more solid-like phase. While in the solid-like phase, there can be relatively minimal movement of flowable material 1 17. When the vacuum is released, volume 1 15 can return to atmospheric pressure. Flowable material 1 17 can return to the fluid-like phase with or without external manipulation, such as for example, application of positive pressure (e.g., See U.S. Patent Application Publication 2013/0106127).
[084] According to various embodiments, the percentage of volume 1 15, as defined by undeformed membrane 1 1 1 , occupied by flowable material 1 17 can vary. For example, in FIG. 2B flowable material 1 17 occupies approximately 50% of total volume 1 15. However, in other embodiments the percentage of volume 1 15 occupied by flowable material 1 17 can be less than 50%, for example, less than 40%, 30%, 20%, or 10%. In other embodiments, the percentage of volume 1 5 occupied by flowable material 1 17 can be greater than 50%, for example, more than 60%, 70%, 80%, or 90%. In some embodiments, the percentage of volume 115 occupied by flowable material 1 17 can be greater than 100% of the volume (defined by undeformed membrane 1 1 1 ) by increasing the available volume by stretching (i.e., deforming) membrane 1 1 1 . For example, the percentage of volume 1 15 (defined by undeformed membrane 1 1 1) occupied by flowable material 1 17 can be greater than 1 10%, 120%, 130%, 140% or 150%.
[085] As shown in FIGS. 2B and 2C, interior collar 112B can include a ledge 130. Ledge 130 can project radially inward from interior collar 1 12B. Ledge 130 can span the circumference of interior collar 1 12B or ledge 130 can span a portion or portions of the circumference. Ledge 130 can extend out from interior collar 12B a distance ranging from less than 5% of the radius of interior collar 1 2B to 50% or more. The upper surface of ledge 130 can be pitched down away from the inner surface, such that flowable material in the fluid-like state can move over the upper surface due to gravity. In other embodiments, ledge 130 can be formed higher up the inner surface of interior collar 1 2B or a plurality of ledges 130 can be formed on an inner surface of interior collar 1 12B. [086] Ledge 130 can be configured to act as a support member to flowable material 1 17 when in the solid-like state. Flowable material 1 17, membrane 1 11 , and an object 300 can constitute a tensile load. A portion of the load carried by flowable material 117 and membrane 1 1 1 can be transferred to ledge 130 and interior collar 112B. For example, as shown in FIG. 2C, when head 10 is grasping an object, flowable material 117 can contact at least the upper surface of ledge 130 and transfer a portion of the tensile load to ledge 130. The upper surface of ledge 130 can include features (e.g., ridges, waves, dimples, etc.) to increase the resistance and friction between ledge 130 and flowable material 117, which can increase the percentage of the tensile load transferred to ledge 130.
[087] Without ledge 130, membrane 11 1 can support the entire tensile load, including the flowable material, membrane, or object. Repeated loading on the membrane can cause accelerated deterioration, plastic deformation, and lead to a shorter life expectancy. In contrast, the embodiment shown in FIG. 2C can exhibit increased life expectancy of membrane 11 1 due to the reduced tensile loading.
Additionally, when the load is carried entirely by membrane 111 there can be movement during transfer or oscillation of the object. Therefore, transferring a portion of the load to ledge 130 can decrease the likelihood of undesired movement.
[088] In other embodiments, alternative support members can be provided to receive at least a portion of the tensile load. For example, rods (not shown) could project down from interior collar 1 12B having one or more surfaces extending out from the rods at varying heights. The rods and surfaces can be configured to contact flowable material 1 17 and act as support members configured to receive a portion of the tensile load. In another embodiment, members (not shown) could extend from one side of interior collar 1 12B to another side making a grid pattern spanning a portion of volume 115. The grid pattern could be such that movement of flowable material 117 in the liquid-like state is relatively unhindered. But in the solidlike state, flowable material 117 can contact the members and transfer a portion of the tensile load. In another embodiment, support members can extend from or be integral to filter 1 16. In another embodiment, a mesh, web, or net structure can extend from interior collar 1 2B across volume 5 and be configured to allow the flow of flowable material 1 17 in the fluid-like phase and configured to receive tensile load from flowable material 1 17 in the solid-like phase. It is contemplated that various configurations of support members can be utilized. They can receive at least a portion of the tensile load from flowable material 1 17.
[089] Filter 1 16 described above can be configured to prevent flowable material 117 from escaping from volume 1 15 through opening 114. Filter 116 can enclose opening 114 such that all fluid entering or exiting volume 1 15 through opening 1 14 passes through filter 1 16. Filter 1 16 can be installed by removing disc 1 13 and inserting filter 1 16 into position through opening 1 14 or filter 1 16 and disc 1 13 can be removed from opening 114 simultaneously as a coupled component. Similarly, filter 1 16 and disc 113 can be press fit together prior to installation in opening 1 14. Filter 116 can be replaceable and disposable or removable and cleanable. Filter 1 16 can be formed of fibers, molded plastics, molded metals, molded ceramics, and screen mesh. The pore size of filter 116 can vary based on the size of the flowable material. For example, filter 1 16 can be configured such that the pore size is smaller than the grain size of the flowable material and any dust that may be created from wear, but at the same time as large as possible to expedite fluid flow through the filter.
[090] As described above, in alternate embodiments more than one opening 114 into volume 115 can be formed in which case they can be configured to all direct flow through a single filter or separate filters can be used. It is
contemplated that exposing a filter to alternating positive pressure and vacuum assists with unclogging and clearing of filter 1 16. It is also contemplated that a filter unclogging routine can be performed. For example, fluid flow at positive pressure can be pulsed through filter 1 16 such that flow material stuck or embedded on filter 1 16 can be dislodged increasing the available area for flowable material 117 to pass through. The frequency and duration of the pulses can be optimized based on filter 116 and flowable material 117.
[091] Referring back now to FIGS. 1 and 2A, gripper 100 can comprise a mounting component, for example, base 120 that can be configured to releasably and fluidly couple to head 1 10. Attached to base 120 can be a plurality of fasteners 122 configured to releasably couple to head 1 10. For example, the embodiment in FIG. 1 includes four fasteners 122 around the circumference of base 120. Four fasteners 122 may be evenly or unevenly spaced around the circumference of base 120. In other embodiments, more or less fasteners 122 can be utilized or alternative mechanism of securing base 120 to head 110 can be employed. For example, base 120 can be threaded to head 1 10, or base 120 and head 1 10 can be designed for a snap fit connection, or a plurality of snap fit connections.
[092] According to another exemplary embodiment, as shown in FIGS. 14 to 24, gripper 100 can include a coupling mechanism 170 for releasably and fluidly coupling head 1 10 to a mounting component, for example, base 120. As shown in FIG. 14, coupling mechanism 170 can include a connecting element 171 configured to engage and surround one or more latches 172. Connecting element 171 may be for example, a ring as shown in Fig. 14. It is contemplated that other embodiments of connecting element 171 may be utilized. The exemplary embodiment shown in FIG. 14 includes four latches 172. However, in other embodiments more or fewer latches can be included as part of coupling mechanism 170. Latches 172 as shown in FIG. 14 may be spaced evenly around the circumference of the rim 90 degrees apart. In other embodiments, latches 172 may be unevenly spaced. Head 1 10 can include a rim 173 configured to engage and couple with coupling mechanism 170. As shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, rim 173 can be formed as an integral part of collar 112. In other embodiments, rim 173 can be a separate component that may be fixedly or releasably attached to collar 112. In yet another embodiment, the configuration of coupling mechanism 170 may be reversed, such that latches 172 may attached to head 1 10 and rim 173 may be an integral or removable part of the mounting component, for example, base 120.
[093] FIG. 16 shows a close up cross-sectional view of coupling mechanism 170, a latch 172, and a portion of head 1 10 and base 120. Head 1 10 and base 120 in FIG. 16 are shown in a coupled state. Latch 172 can include a roller 174, a latch body 175, a latch spring 176, and a pivot member 177. Pivot member 177 can extend from one side of latch 172 to the other and be secured to base 120 by casings that allow for rotation of pivot member 177 within each casing. Roller 174 can comprise a bearing having an outer surface that can rotate around a central cylinder. Latch body 175 can be configured such that latch body 175, latch spring 176, and roller 174 can rotate about a central axis 177A of pivot member 177.
[094] As shown in FIG. 16, pivot member 177 can extend through the center coil of latch spring 176. A portion 176A of latch spring 176 can extend up into the center of latch body 175 such that a spring force generated by displacement of latch spring 176 can be transferred to latch body 175. The spring force can be configured to cause rotation or resist rotation of latch body 175 about pivot member 177 depending on the position of latch 172.
[095] In FIG. 16 it is shown how connecting element 171 can have a "u" shaped cross-sectional area such that an internal cavity is formed. A portion 175A of latch body 175 can extend outward from latch body 175 and can be inserted into the internal cavity of connecting element 171 thereby coupling the rotation of latch 172 to the motion of connecting element 171. In other embodiments, connecting element 171 may fixedly attached to portion 175A or another portion of latch body 175. In yet another embodiment, additional linkage or an additional component may be utilized to link latch 172 to connecting element 171.
[096] When head 1 10 and base 120 are in an uncoupled state as shown in FIGS. 14 and 15, latches 172 are in an open receiving position. The open receiving position can be reached and/or maintained due to latch spring 176 applying a force on latch body 175 that causes latch body 175 to rotate outward about central axis 177A. FIG. 17 shows latches 172 in the open receiving position while head 110 and base 120 are at state of initial engagement. Head 1 10 and base 120 may be brought to a state of initial engagement by substantially aligning the central axis of head 1 10 and base 120 and bringing the two into engagement by moving head 110, base 120, or both. Latches 172 and particularly rollers 174 can be configured to align head 1 10 with base 120 during engagement.
[097] As shown in FIG. 17, rim 173 can include an engagement surface 178 and a locking surface 179. Engagement surface 178 can extend outward from head 110 at an angle from the lower or upper surface 11 OA (depending on orientation) of head 1 10. Engagement surface 178 can extend to point 180 where it meets locking surface 179 to form rim 173. From point 180 locking surface 179 can extend inward at an angle (e.g., acute) toward the center of head 1 10 before curving away from engagement surface 178 and becoming the outer surface of exterior collar 112A. Locking surface 179 can be configured to form a cavity corresponding to the shape of roller 174, as shown in FIG. 16.
[098] An engagement force F may be applied to head 110, base 120, or both. Upon initial contact of head 110 and base 120, engagement surface 178 can contact roller 174 at a contact point 181. The engagement force can cause rotation of latch body 175, latch spring 176, and roller 174 about central axis 177A away from the center of base 120. By rotating roller 174, latch body 175, and latch spring 176, roller 174 can roll up along engagement surface 178 as head 110 approaches base 120.
[099] Contact point 181 can be offset an angle a about a roller axis 174A from radius 182 that extends from central axis 177A through roller axis 174A. As shown in FIG. 17, angle a can be an acute angle that is substantially large such that engagement force F applied to head 110, base 120, or both can be sufficiently small. For example, angle a can be greater than or equal to, for example, about 15 degrees, 30 degrees, 45 degrees, 60 degrees, 75 degrees. After initial contact, angle a can increase as roller 174 rolls up engagement surface 78 increasing the percentage of engagement F (e.g., magnitude) directed perpendicular to central axis 177A. This increase in magnitude can be beneficial to overcome the increase in magnitude of the spring force due to the increased displacement of latch spring 176.
[0100] As shown in FIGS. 17 and 18, roller 174 can roll up engagement surface 178 until reaching point 180 at which point roller 174 can pivot around point 180 and contact locking surface 179 and settle at a contact point 183. By pivoting around point 180 the direction of the spring force exerted on head 110 transitions from an opposing force to an attractive force. This positioning of head 110 and base 120 can constitute, for example, a locked, coupled, or engage state. Rotation of roller 174 around point 180 may be driven by the spring force of latch spring 176. Head 1 10, base 120, and coupling mechanism 170 can be configured such that engagement of roller 174 with locking surface 179 can coincide with mating of head 110 and base 120 as shown in FIG. 18.
[0101] Contact point 183 can be offset an angle Θ about roller axis 174A from radius 182. As shown in FIG. 18, angle Θ can be small so that retention force exerted by latch 172 on head 0 can be sufficiently large to maintain engagement of head 1 10 and base 120 despite one or more potential disengagement forces (e.g., a load) being applied to head 1 10, base 120, or both in a direction capable of causing separation. For example, angle Θ can be 45 degrees and retention force can be greater than or equal to 1 lb per latch. Configurations having higher retention forces may be generally preferable.
[0102] In FIGS. 17 and 18, connecting element 171 has been omitted only for the purpose of simplifying the viewing of the other components of the figures. It is intended that coupling mechanism 170 shown in FIGS. 17 and 18 can include connecting element 171 as described herein. [0103] Coupling mechanism 170 can be configured such that mating of head 110 and base 120 is sufficient to establish electrical, pneumatic, or fluid connection between head 110 and base 120. For example, the retention force may be sufficient to compress an o-ring and/or gasket configured to seal a pneumatic and/or fluid connection.
[0104] Coupling mechanism 170 can be configured such that head 1 10 and base 120 can be uncoupled from a coupled state, as illustrated in FIGS. 19, by mechanical action of connecting element 171. The mechanical action can include applying an uncoupling force U to a lower surface 171 A of connecting element 171. Uncoupling force U can be sufficient to overcome the force of latch spring 176.
Uncoupling force U applied to connecting element 171 can cause roller 174 and latch body 175 to rotate around central axis 177A, thereby causing roller 174 to roll away from head 1 10 beyond point 180 and thus allowing head 1 10 to drop from base 120. Although the above description is described in relation to a single latch 172 and FIG. 19 only illustrates a single latch 172, it is understood that by applying an uncoupling force U that may be distributed about connecting element 171 can cause the same result simultaneously to the one or more other latches 172 also coupled to connecting element 171.
[0105] FIG. 20 shows another exemplary embodiment of gripper 100. The gripper 100 embodiment shown in FIG. 20 is similar to the gripper 100 embodiment shown in FIGS. 14 through 19 besides a few differences. A first difference is that gripper 100 shown in FIG. 20 includes three latches 172 versus four in FIG. 14, which may be evenly spaced about 120 degrees apart or unevenly spaced. Another difference is that head 110 includes a plurality of posts 121. As shown in FIG. 20, head 110 can include four posts 121 spaced (e.g., evenly or unevenly) around the circumference of head 110. Posts 121 can be position interior to connecting element 171 and adjacent to the interior surface of connecting element 171. The positioning of posts 121 can be such that the movement or displacement of connecting element 71 is restricted to vertical movement along the length of posts 121. Posts 121 may be configured to maintain the position of connecting element 171 concentric to head 110 and base 120 during coupling and uncoupling. Posts 121 may be formed of a variety of materials, for example, a metal, metal alloy, polymer, composite, resin (e.g., Delrin®), etc. According to other embodiments, more or less posts 121 may be utilized, for example, two, three, five, six, or more posts may be coupled to base 120. [0106] According to an exemplary embodiment, the mechanical action of applying coupling force F or uncoupling force U to a portion of coupling mechanism 170, for example, connecting element 171 can be a result of a movement performed by a robotic arm 190 to which a mounting component, for example base 120 may be attached. For example, as illustrated in FIG. 21 , robotic arm 190 may be designed to couple base 120 to head 110 by positioning base 120 above head 1 10 and descending down onto head 1 10 thereby applying coupling force F. Alternate orientations and directions of approach may also be possible for coupling base 20 to head 1 10. Head 1 10 may also be coupled by a movement of head 1 10 by a human operator (e.g., manually actuated. For example, an operator may manually align and push head together with base 120 causing coupling mechanism 170 to engage.
[0107] Uncoupling of head 110 and base 120 by robotic arm 190 may be performed in coordination with a fixture 195, as shown in FIG. 22. Fixture 195 may be placed on the ground or other surface in proximity to robotic arm 190. Fixture 195 may include a support structure 195A and a top surface 195B. As shown in FIG. 23, top surface 195B may have a first opening 196 and a second opening 197. Robotic arm 190 may be programmed to position head 110 and base 120 into second opening 197 as shown in FIG. 24. The positioning may be such that a rim of second opening 197 can encircle at least a portion of exterior collar 112A below connecting element 171 and thereby robotic arm 190 can apply a downward force on head 110 and base 120 causing the rim of second opening 197 to apply uncoupling force U on lower surface 171 A of connecting element 171 thereby releasing head 110. Upon release of head 1 10, head 110 may drop a short distance to a surface below.
[0108] Upon release of head 1 10, robotic arm 190 may be configured to reposition and couple to another head 1 10 or another end effector. Alternatively, robotic arm 190 may recouple to head 110 previously released by sliding top surface 195B such that head 1 10 vertically aligns with first opening 196 which is larger than second opening 197 and configured to allow base 120 to freely descend through first opening 196 and couple to head 1 10 sitting on the surface below.
[0109] Coupling mechanism 170 can enable automated replacement of head 110. For example, arm 190 can be programmed to change, swap, replace, or reposition head 1 10 or any other end effector configured for coupling to base 120 without additional actuators, pneumatic, or operator intervention. Coupling mechanism 170 may be advantageous because systems requiring additional actuators or pneumatics to change end effectors may have increased complexity and cost. Similarly, systems reliant on operators to change end effectors may have increased operating cost, down time, or failures due to the reliance on the operator.
[0110] Automated replacement of head 110 can enable head 1 10 to be swapped with a different size head during operation or another end effector in order to accommodate gripping of objects of varying shape, size, orientation, etc. For example, FIG. 25 shows base 120 approaching a suction cup end effector 198 having a rim 173. As shown in FIG. 25 other fixture embodiments are contemplated. Coupling mechanism 170 can also enable head 110 to automatically be replaced by robotic arm 190 after reaching the ends of its life cycle (e.g., worn out).
[01 1 1] According to another embodiment, the function of fixture 195 may be performed by a human operator. For example, an operator may apply an uncoupling force on connecting element 171 causing head 1 10 to uncouple from base 120. It is contemplated that head 110 and base 120 may be stationary while an operator applies the uncoupling force or alternatively head 10 and base 20 may move by way of a robotic arm 190 force example while the operator's hand remain stationary.
[01 12] FIG 26. shows another exemplary embodiment of gripper 100 comprising a head 110, a coupling mechanism 170, and a mounting component, for example, a first latching plate 135. Coupling mechanism 170, as shown in FIG. 26 may be configured for latching and unlatching via finger actuation by an operator or a fixture. Coupling mechanism 170 as shown in FIG. 26 may be used to couple head 110 to first latching plate 135.
[0113] Coupling mechanism 170 may be similar to coupling mechanism 170 as shown in FIGS. 14-19 besides a few differences. For example, as shown in FIG. 26, coupling mechanism 170 comprises two latches 72 positioned on opposite sides of first latching plate 135. It is contemplated that more latches 172 may be utilized. In addition, as shown in FIG. 26, coupling mechanism 170 is without connecting element 171 connecting latches 172, thereby enabling independent movement of each latch 172. As shown in FIG. 26, each latch 172 has an extended latch body 175 enabling greater surface area for contacting and actuating of latch 172 by an operator (e.g., via fingers) or movement relative to a fixture. Although coupling mechanism 170 in FIG. 26 is shown as part of first latching plate 135, it is contemplated that this embodiment of coupling mechanism 170 may also be utilized to couple head 110 to other mounting components, for example, base 120 as described herein.
[01 14] First latching plate 135, as shown in FIG. 26 may be configured to receive fluid flow at positive or negative (i.e., vacuum) pressure through an inlet port 136 and direct that to a central outlet port 137, which may be in fluid communication with opening 1 14 (see FIGS. 2A and 2B) when first latching plate 135 and head 110 are coupled. To facilitate alignment of head 110 and first latching plate 135, first latching plate 135 may also include guiding features 138 configured to assist in alignment.
[01 15] Head 1 10 as shown in FIG. 26 includes a rim 173 similar to rim 173 as shown in FIGS. 14-19 configured for coupling to latches 172. Head 1 10 may also include a side entry passage 185 in fluid communication with opening 114 and volume 115. Side entry passage 185 may be plugged when not in use as shown in FIG. 26. Access to opening 1 14 and volume 115 via side entry passage 185 can enable head 1 10 to be supplied a fluid flow of positive pressure and negative pressure directly from a source rather than it being routed through base 120 or first latching plate 135.
[01 16] FIGS. 27A and 27B show another exemplary embodiment of gripper 100 comprising a head 110, a coupling mechanism 170, and a mounting component, for example, a second latching plate 155. Coupling mechanism 170 as shown in FIGS. 27A and 27B may be configured for coupling head 110 to second latching plate 155 using magnetic forces. Coupling mechanism 170 using magnetic forces may include one or more latch and magnet sets.
[0117] Head 1 10 as shown in FIG. 27A can have a first set of magnets 156 positioned in the upper surface of head 110. First set of magnets 156 may include two polarized magnets with a fixed position within head 1 10. It is contemplated that in other embodiments, first set of magnets 156 can include more or less than two magnets. Head 110 as shown in FIG. 27A may also include a side entry passage 185.
[0118] Second latching plate 155 may have a second set of magnets 157 that correspond with first set of magnets 156. Second set of magnets 157 may be positioned in a lower surface of second latching plate 155, as shown in FIG. 27B, such that the surface of first set of magnets 156 and second set of magnets 157 are adjacent when head 1 10 is coupled to second latching plate 155. The second set of magnets 157 may be rotated and the rotation may be controlled via a lever 158. Second latching plate 155 may have one or more levers 158 corresponding to each of the magnets making up the second set of magnets 157. Each lever 158 can be rotated between a latched and unlatched position as shown in FIG. 27B.
[0119] When each lever 158 is in a latched position, each magnet of the second set of magnets 157 can be in alignment with the corresponding magnet of the first set of magnets 156 such that attraction between the magnets is at a maximum thereby producing a maximum holding force via a magnetic attraction force. Rotating each lever 158 to a release position can cause rotation of each of the second set of magnets 157 by 90 degrees. Rotation of the second set of magnets 157 can reduce the magnetic attraction force between the set of magnets. The reduced magnetic attraction force can facilitate uncoupling of head 1 10 from second latching plate 155. In some embodiments, the rotation may even convert the attraction force between the set of magnets to a repulsion force. It is contemplated that coupling mechanism 170 as shown in FIGS. 27A and 27B may be incorporated into other embodiments of mounting components, for example, base 120.
[0120] Second latching plate 155 may also include retractable spring plungers 159 that may be configured to maintain the position of each lever 158 when in the latched position. The plungers 159 are configured to prevent unintended movement of levers 158 during operation of gripper 100. Retraction of a plunger 159 can enable rotation of the corresponding lever 158.
[0121] Second latching plate 155, as shown in FIG. 27A and 27B, may also be configured to receive a fluid flow at positive and negative (i.e., vacuum) pressure through an inlet port 136 and direct that to a central outlet port 137, which aligns with opening 114 (see FIGS. 2A and 2B) when second latching plate 155 and head 1 10 are coupled. To facilitate alignment of head 110 and second latching plate 155, second latching plate 155 can also include guiding features 138 configured to assist in alignment. The guiding features may be positioned on opposite sides of second latching plate 155 and ninety degrees offset from the second set of magnets 157.
[0122] It is contemplated that the various embodiments of coupling mechanism 170 described herein may be utilized as a universal coupling mechanism beyond the exemplary embodiments described herein. Use of coupling mechanism 170 for coupling head 1 10 to base 120, first latching plate 135, or second latching plate 155 are just a few of the exemplary embodiments. The various embodiments of coupling mechanism 170 may also be used to established mechanical, electrical, and/or pneumatic connections between a first component and a second component. The various embodiments of coupling mechanism 170 may also be used to couple end effectors directly to robotic arms (e.g., robotic arm 190).
[0123] In FIGS. 3 and 4, according to an exemplary embodiment, base 120 can include a first inlet port 123, a second inlet port 124, and an outlet port 125 (see FIG. 4). First inlet port 123 can be positioned adjacent to second inlet port 124 in a removable side panel 126 of base 120, as shown in FIG. 3. Removable side panel 126 can be generally flat and configured to couple to base 120 using a plurality of fasteners (e.g., bolts, screws, etc.). First inlet port 123 and second inlet port 124 can be the same size or different sizes. First inlet port 123 can be larger than second inlet port 124 or smaller. First inlet port 123 and second inlet port 124 can be threaded and configured for installation of various quick-connect or push-connect pneumatic fittings. In various other embodiments, alternative type connections may be used. For example, glued socket connections or hose barb connections can be utilized.
[0124] As shown in FIGS. 4 and 5, outlet port 125 can be positioned in a side wall of base 120 opposite first inlet port 123 and second inlet port 124. Outlet port 125 can be a generally flat grate like opening coupled to base 120 using a plurality of fasteners (e.g., bolts, screws, etc.).
[0125] As illustrated in FIG. 4, removable side panel 126 and outlet port 125 can be recessed back toward the center of base 20 away from the outer
circumference. By recessing these into the interior of base 120 the number and distance of features projecting outward from base 120 can be reduced. As a result, base 120 can have a reduced profile and therefore be less likely to inadvertently strike an object from the surrounding environment.
[0126] As shown in FIGS. 3 and 4, base 120 can include one or more auxiliary ports 128. Auxiliary ports 128 can be configured to receive one or more sensors (e.g., pressure, humidity, temperature, etc.). Auxiliary ports 128 can vary in size from less than 1/8 inch to 1 inch or more and can be threaded or a socket style connection. When not in use, one or more plugs can be installed in auxiliary ports 128, as shown in FIGS. 3 and 4. Auxiliary ports 128 can be located in a side wall of base 120 adjacent to removable side panel 126 and outlet port 125. It is
contemplated that the location of auxiliary ports 128 can be changed to the opposite side wall or in various other embodiments auxiliary ports could be located on the same side wall as inlet ports 123/124, as shown in FIG. 3 or on the same side wall as outlet port 125. In addition, auxiliary ports 128 can be used for troubleshooting or flushing of base 120 during maintenance or operation. In other embodiments, auxiliary ports 128 could be used as supplemental inlet ports to first and second inlet ports 123/124. In other embodiments, one or more auxiliary ports 128 could be formed in head 1 10 and in fluid communication with volume 115.
[0127] In some embodiments, gripper 100 can couple to a mounting component, for example, a mounting plate 140, as shown in FIGS. 6 and 7A.
Mounting plate 140 can be configured to facilitate attachment of gripper 100 to a robotic member or other devices (not shown). Mounting plate 140 can be formed of an inner disk 141 set atop and fixed to an outer disk 142. Set in from the outer circumference of outer disk 142 can be a ring of holes spaced evenly around the circumference. The ring of holes formed in outer disk 142 can correspond to a set of holes in the top surface of base 120. The holes formed in the top surface of base 120 can be threaded. Therefore, mounting plate 140 can be attached to the top surface of base 120 using a plurality of fasteners (e.g., bolts) inserted through the holes in outer disk 142 and threaded into the holes located on the top surface of base 120. In other embodiments, mounting plate 140 can be formed of a flat disk comprising inner disk 141 and outer disk 142. In other embodiments, the ring of holes can be formed in a side wall of outer disk 142 such that the fasteners can be inserted from the side rather than top surface. In other embodiments, the ring of holes can be replaced with a different mechanism for fastening (e.g., clips, buckles, push fit connectors, snap fit connectors, etc.).
[0128] In some embodiments, gripper 100 can be configured to mount directly to a mounting component, for example, a robotic arm or other mechanism without the use of mounting plate 140. In other embodiments, mounting plate can be configured to releasably couple directly to head 1 10. For example, in some embodiments, head 1 10 can mount directly to a robotic member (e.g., arms, couplings, attachments, brackets, etc.) with or without the use of mounting plate 140. In such embodiments, head 110 can be configured to directly receive a source of fluid at positive pressure and a vacuum source and supply them to volume 115.
[0129] In some embodiments, mounting plate 140 can be configured to include coupling mechanism 170, thereby enabling head 110 to mount directly to mounting plate 140 and a robotic arm 190. In such embodiments, base 120 may be configured to mount remotely and be fluidly coupled to head 1 10 using, for example, hoses, conduit, piping, etc. Alternatively, base 120 can be removed from gripper 100 and head 110 can be configured to directly receive a source of fluid at positive pressure and a vacuum source and supply them to volume 115.
[0130] As shown in FIGS. 7A and 7B, inner disk 141 can comprise a plurality of hole patterns of varying size and arrangement. The holes can be countersunk to allow for fasteners (e.g., bolts or screws) to sit flush with the surface of inner disk 141. Each pattern of holes or combination of patterns can correspond to a different robotic arm mount (e.g., manufacturer, model, style, size, etc.). Therefore, mounting plate 140 can act as a universal mounting plate for a plurality of robotic arm manufacturers. Mounting plate 140 can be installed by first mounting the plate to the robotic arm and then aligning base 120 up to mounting plate 140 and then installing fasteners through the holes in outer disk 142. The size of mounting plate 140 can vary based on the size of gripper 100 and the corresponding robotic arm. The holes formed in inner disk 141 can range from less than 1/8 inch to 3/4 inch or more.
Mounting plate 140 can be formed of metal (e.g., stainless steel, cast iron, aluminum, etc.), a plastic (e.g., ABS, PVC, NYLON, etc.), or a composite material. In other embodiments, inner disk 141 can be configured for end user fabrication of hole pattern.
[0131] FIG. 8A is a flow schematic for gripper 100, showing the internal flow configuration of head 1 10 and base 120, according to an exemplary embodiment. A first passage 123A can be configured to receive fluid flow at positive pressure. First passage 123A can be in fluid communication with a first inlet port 123, outlet port 125, or volume 115. As show in FIG. 8A, fluid supplied to first passage 123A can flow through a first check valve CV1 positioned between first inlet port 123 and opening 1 14 and outlet port 125. As discussed above, in some embodiments, base 120 may be configured to mount remotely and be fluidly coupled to head 10 using, for example, hoses, conduit, piping, etc. In such embodiments, a length of hose, conduit, or piping may be in line with opening 114 between the remotely mounted base 120 and head 110.
[0132] A second passage 124A can be configured to receive fluid flow at positive pressure. Second passage 124A can be in fluid communication with one or more venturi vacuum generators 127, second inlet port 124, outlet port 125, or volume 115. Venturi vacuum generators 127 can comprise a nozzle and diffuser (not shown) that produces a vacuum by forcing compressed air through a limiting orifice (i.e., nozzle). As air exits the orifice it expands, increasing in velocity to high speed before entering the venturi section (i.e., diffuser). This creates a vacuum at a vacuum inlet ports 127A located between the nozzle and diffuser while exhausting the air out the end of venturi vacuum generators 127 to outlet port 125. As shown in FIG. 8A, venturi vacuum generator 127 can be in fluid communication with volume 115 and outlet port 125.
[0133] The fluid flow supplied to first inlet port 123 and second inlet port 124 can be from the same source or separate sources. The positive pressure can range for less than 60 psi to 90 psi or more and at a flow rate of less than 5 SCFM to 20 SCFM or more. If from the same source, one or more control valves can be used to control the flow to first inlet port 123 and second inlet port 124. In some
embodiments the control valves can be integrated into gripper 100 or in other embodiments the control valves can be separate components.
[0134] According to the embodiment shown in FIG. 8A, venturi vacuum generators 127 can comprise four venturi vacuum generators 127 positioned in parallel and the vacuum produced by each can be combined in a common manifold or header, which can be in fluid communication with volume 115 and outlet port 125. Each venturi vacuum generator 127 can be configured to produce a vacuum level ranging from less than about 10 inch-Hg up to and greater than about 28 inch-Hg. Preferably the vacuum produced will range from about 15 inch-Hg to about 28 inch- Hg.
[0135] As shown in FIG. 8A, between volume 115 and venturi vacuum generator 127 can be a second check valve CV2. Second check valve CV2 can be configured to open when a vacuum condition of sufficient pressure exists on the downstream side. For example, a vacuum pressure greater than 0 inch-Hg can cause CV2 to open. When second check valve CV2 opens, the vacuum can extend to volume 1 15. This vacuum subsequently shrinks membrane 1 11 and can cause flowable material 117 to undergo a transition into a more solid-like phase. In the solid-like phase gripper 100 can grasp a target object and enable movement of an object 300 coupled to gripper 100, as shown in FIG. 9. When no vacuum exists downstream of second check valve CV2 and no positive pressure exists upstream of second check valve CV2, second check valve CV2 can seal and prevent fluid flow from volume 115 through second passage 124A.
[0136] In an alternate embodiment, as shown in FIG. 8B, a single inlet port 200 can be used and within base 120. A valve 210 (e.g., a three-way valve) can be used to direct flow to either first passage 123A or second passage 124A as needed. In yet another embodiment, valve 210 could be replaced with two separate valves, each configured to isolate either first passage 123A or second passage 124A.
[0137] According to various embodiments, the number of venturi vacuum generators 127 installed in base 120 can be 1 or greater than 1 , for example, 2, 3, 4, or more. Venturi vacuum generator 127 can comprise a modular venturi cartridge made of nylon, brass, or other comparable material. According to some
embodiments, venturi vacuum generator 127 can be an off-the-shelf part
manufactured by original equipment manufacturers (OEM).
[0138] Base 120 and venturi vacuum generator 127 can be modularly configured such that replacement venturi vacuum generators 127 can be swapped in and out of base 120. In addition, the modularity of venturi vacuum generator 127 can allow for taking of venturi vacuum generators offline by removing and plugging vacant venturi slots. For example, as shown in FIGS. 10A and 10B, venturi vacuum generator 127 can be accessed by removing removable side panel 126 (not shown). Upon gaining access, venturi vacuum generator 27 can be removed or installed as required by sliding them from the venturi slots formed in base 120. When a venturi vacuum generator is taken offline, the vacant slot can be blanked by installing a plug into the slot configured to seal the appropriate openings. According to some embodiments, the plug can be largely cylindrical shaped with one or more O-rings or gaskets situated along the circumference of the plug to prevent fluid communication through the plugged slot. In other embodiments, one or more electric or mechanical mechanisms (e.g., valve, solenoid valve, etc.) can be used to isolate and shutoff vacant venturi slots.
[0139] In other embodiments, venturi vacuum generator 127 can be formed as an integral component of base 120. For example, venturi vacuum generator 127 (e.g., nozzle and diffuser) can be manufactured as an internal feature of base 120 using 3D printing technology. Even if venturi vacuum generator 127 is an internal feature of base 120, venturi vacuum generator 127 can still be taken offline by plugging the inlet and outlet to the venturi nozzle by accessing through removable side panel 126.
[0140] Taking venturi vacuum generators offline enables the total number and type of online operating venturi vacuum generators to be adjusted. Adjusting the number of online venturi vacuum generators 127 can allow for optimization of the vacuum (e.g., vacuum speed, air consumption, and vacuum pressure level), and thus the performance of gripper 100. Performance of gripper 100 can be measured by a variety of standards, for example, actuation speed, repeatability, payload capacity, pinching pressure, etc.
[0141] According to various embodiments, if maximum actuation speed is desired then it would be advantageous to utilize the maximum amount of venturi vacuum generators the base can accommodate. Whereas, if the pinching pressure is insufficient to grasp an object, then the magnitude of the vacuum can be increased by lengthening the duration of vacuum applied.
[0142] According to various embodiments, in addition to varying the number of venturi vacuum generators 127 online, the model and therefore the performance of the venturi vacuum generators can also be changed. For example, different venturi vacuum generators can be configured to achieve different vacuum
magnitudes (e.g., 10 inch-Hg, 20 inch-Hg, 29.9 inch-Hg, etc.) In addition, venturi vacuum generator models configured to receive lower positive pressure (e.g., less than 70 psi) can be installed when the feed source is a lower pressure source. On the other hand, in situations where the positive pressure source is supplied at normal pressure or even higher pressure, other venturi models can be installed designed to receive the higher pressure.
[0143] In other embodiments, venturi vacuum generators 127 can be eliminated from base 120. Instead second inlet port 124 and second passage 124A can be supplied with a vacuum line in fluid communication with a vacuum source. The vacuum source can be a vacuum chamber, vacuum reservoir, pneumatic piston, diaphragm pump, vacuum pump, rotary lobe pump, venturi vacuum generator, etc. The pumps can be electrical, pneumatic, or mechanical. The pumps can be configured for continuous or intermittent operation. In other embodiments, venturi vacuum generators 127 within gripper 100 can be supplemented by an additional internal or external vacuum source, including the list described above. For example, base 120 could include a combination of venturi vacuum generators 127 and an electrical vacuum pump to supply a vacuum to volume 1 15. Yet in other
embodiments, venturi vacuum generators within gripper 100 can be replaced with another vacuum source, including the list described above.
[0144] As described above, exhaust from venturi vacuum generator 127 can discharge to outlet port 125. In addition, outlet port 125 can also be in fluid communication with volume 115 and configured to receive exhaust through a third check valve CV3. Third check valve CV3 can be configured to open and exhaust fluid whenever the pressure differential between first passage 123A or volume 1 15 and atmosphere exceeds a high pressure threshold. The high pressure threshold for the differential between first passage 123A or volume 115 and atmosphere may be fore example, about 0.25 psi, 0.5 psi, 1 psi, or more. Therefore, third check valve CV3 can open when pressure is about at atmosphere or higher and can remain closed when pressure is below atmosphere.
[0145] The line size between first passage 123A and outlet port 125 can be tuned to ensure adequate flow of positive pressure to volume 115. Thus, third check valve CV3 can be configured as a safety check valve that prevents over
pressurization within volume 115. In some embodiment, a flow control valve may be installed, for example upstream of first passage 123A. The flow control valve may tuned to control incoming fluid flow in order to prevent over-inflation or over pressurization of volume membrane 11. Preventing over pressurization is
advantageous because over pressurization could cause catastrophic failure of membrane 11 1 (e.g., rupture). However, even over pressurization that does not result in catastrophic failure is undesired because repeated over pressurization can cause plastic deformation of membrane 11 1 , material fatigue, or shorten the expected life cycle.
[0146] As shown in FIG. 8A, one or more flow control devices (e.g., CV1 , CV2, and CV3) within base 120 can be configured to control fluid flow to volume 115. In addition, the arrangement of first check valve CV1 , second check valve CV2, and third check valve CV3 can be such that a vacuum can be sealed and preserved within volume 1 15 without continuously maintaining fluid flow at positive pressure to second passage 124A. In other embodiments, the one or more of the flow control devices can be external to gripper 100 (i.e., base 120 and head 110). Flow control devices external to gripper 100 can be coupled to gripper 100 or can be remote components in fluid communication with gripper 100. For example, in one embodiment, first check valve CV1 could be an OEM check valve coupled to first inlet port 123 on the exterior of base 120. In yet another embodiment, where vacuum is supplied to gripper 100 rather than produced within, second check valve CV2 could be an OEM check valve coupled to second inlet port 124.
[0147] According to some embodiments, check valves CV1 , CV2, and CV3 can be a modular valve configured to be installed within the corresponding passage. Check valves CV1 , CV2, and CV3 can comprise at least a spring element, diaphragm or O-ring, and sealing element. Check valves CV1 , CV2, and CV3 can be an OEM check valve selected based on at least one of the dimensions, performance, or materials. In other embodiments, check valves CV1 , CV2, and CV3 can be integral components of base 120. It contemplated that additional pneumatic components may be added to base 120 or head 110, for example, a needle valve, orifice plate, etc.
[0148] The ability to maintain the vacuum and also grip strength on an object even after removing positive pressure to second passage 124A can be
advantageous for several reasons. First, sealing the vacuum rather than maintaining an active vacuum by continuous flow of air can provide substantial operating cost saving in the form of reduced positive pressure fluid (e.g., air) consumption. Second, the overall noise produced during operation can be reduced due to the reduction or elimination of exhaust noise during the period in which the vacuum is sealed. Third, sealing of the vacuum while gripping can prevent unexpected release of an object as a result of loss of positive pressure caused by power loss, line disconnection, or other unexpected situation.
[0149] The sealing of the vacuum can be achieved by arranging the plurality of check valves as shown in FIG. 8A and as described herein. Second check valve CV2 can be configured to open when a sufficient vacuum is supplied to the downstream side. Once the vacuum is removed from the downstream side second, check valve CV2 can close and seal. Check valve CV1 can be configured such that the resistive force of the check valve is sufficiently large such that the vacuum generated downstream of check valve CV1 is insufficient to open first check valve CV1. However, the resistive force of first check valve CV1 can be low enough so that it will open when exposed to fluid flow at a sufficiently high positive pressure from first passage 123A. Finally, third check valve CV3 can be oriented such that flow is only allowed in the opposite direction of the vacuum. Therefore, third check valve CV3 will remain closed when exposed to vacuum upstream.
[0150] As described above, a vacuum can be substantially sealed and preserved. But, it is expected that there could be a small amount of leakage, which is not unusual for vacuum sealed volumes in these applications. However, the potential rate of leaking expected is small and should not affect the grip of head 110 on an object grasp and release. It is contemplated that if the duration of a grasp is significant, then the loss in vacuum due to leaking could become problematic.
Therefore, gripper 100 can be configured to reactivate fluid flow to second passage 124A thus reapplying an active vacuum to volume 1 15. For example, utilizing active control, gripper 100 may be configured to detect loss of vacuum using a sensor and the reactive fluid flow to second passage 124A. According to various embodiments, reapplication of the vacuum can be conducted in a pulsing type fashion at periodic intervals based on the leak rate.
[0151] According to an exemplary embodiment, it is expected that when the vacuum is sealed as described above, the change in pressure is less than 5 inch-Hg over a period of between 1 second and 30 seconds.
[0152] According to various embodiments, check valves CV1 , CV2, and CV3 can be passive check valves of various types, for example, spring, ball, flap, clapper, etc. According to the embodiment shown in FIG. 8A, second check valve CV2 and third check valve CV3 can have spring constants that are generally similar, while first check valve CV1 can have a spring constant less than, equal to, or greater than check valves CV2 and CV3. However, the cracking pressures for the check valves can differ depending on several variables. For example, the number of venturi vacuum generators, the vacuum capacity of the venturi, and the pressure of fluid flow supplied to first passage 123A and second passage 124A.
[0153] According to some embodiments, for example, first check valve CV1 spring constant can range from less than 5 Ib/in to more than 25 Ib/in, second check valve CV2 spring constant can range from less than 0.1 Ib/in to more than 0.5 Ib/in, and third check valve CV3 spring constant can range from less than 0.1 Ib/in to more than 0.5 Ib/in.
[0154] To release the vacuum or vacuum seal, and thus release the object grasped by gripper 100, fluid flow at positive pressure can be supplied to first passage 123A. This may open first check valve CV1 and flood volume 115 with positive pressure (i.e., atmosphere or greater).
[0155] In other embodiments, rather than supplying positive pressure to first passage 123A the vacuum seal can be released by actuating a check valve and volume 115 can return to atmospheric pressure by passive fluid flow through base 120 as a result of atmospheric pressure until reaching equilibrium.
[0156] It is contemplated that other control devices besides check valves can be utilized to control flow within base 120. For example, in other embodiments, electro-pneumatic solenoid valves (e.g., SV1 , SV2, and SV3) can be used in place of check valves (i.e., CV1 , CV2, and CV3), as shown in FIG. 11. The solenoid valves can communicate with a processor 151 configured to open or close the solenoid valves according to a set of instructions or input received from one or more sensors (not shown). These sensors could be positioned at inlet port 123 and outlet port 125 such that when positive pressure is applied to first inlet port 123 SV1 and SV3 open while SV2 could remain open. Similarly, when positive pressure is applied to second inlet port 124, SV1 and SV3 could remain closed while SV2 remains open. When the positive pressure to second passage 124A is removed, SV2 may close sealing the vacuum within volume 115.
[0157] In yet another embodiment, it is contemplated that a combination of check valves and actuated valves could be utilized. In yet another embodiment, combination actuated/passive valves may also be utilized. For example, the valves may be configured to operate passively (e.g., as a check valve) a portion of time, but optionally can be operated actively via a solenoid or other mechanism. In yet another embodiment, instead of check valves (i.e., CV1 , CV2, and CV3) a single valve controlling flow through opening 114 to volume 115 can be controlled by processor 151 and configured to seal the vacuum within volume 115 according to a software program or instructions.
[0158] To protect the integrity of gripper 100 and particularly membrane 1 1 1 , gripper 100 can be designed to prevent over pressurization. As discussed above, third check valve CV3 can be configured to open and allow flow out of outlet port 125 when a sufficient differential pressure may be achieved across check valve CV3. If desired or recommended, the differential pressure threshold can be adjusted by replacing third check valve CV3 with another check valve having the desired cracking pressure. In other embodiments, third check valve CV3 can be an adjustable check valve configured to allow for manual adjustment.
[0159] According to various embodiments, the fluid lines sizes within base 120 can be designed to prevent over pressurization. For example, first passage 123A fluid can be sized based on a supply source pressure and flow capacity to prevent over pressurization of volume 1 15.
[0160] As shown in FIG. 10, outlet port 125 can further comprise a silencer 129. Silencer 129 can be configured such that exhausting fluid flows through silencer 129 before being discharged from outlet port 125. Silencer 129 can be formed of a sound absorbing material. For example, polypropylene sintered body, polyethylene sintered body, polyvinyl formal, mesh stainless steel, cloth, felt, baffles. Dependent on the material and construction, silencer 129 can be configured to lower the decibel level during operation by 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 40, 50 or more decibels. As a result, silencer 129 can lower the decibel level during operation to below 120, 100, 90, 80, 70, 60, 50 or less decibels. The decibel level during normal operation fluctuates based on the state of fluid flow to gripper 100 and being exhausted from gripper 100. For example, during release of an object fluid flow at positive pressure is supplied to first passage 123A and thus flows into volume 115 and through third check valves CV3 where it exits through outlet port 125. Whereas during gripping, a fluid flow at positive pressure can be supplied to second passage 124A, and thus flows through venturi vacuum generator 127 and out through outlet port 125. Finally, when the vacuum is sealed within volume 115, flow of positive pressure to gripper 100 can stop and therefore no flow will be exhausted.
[0161] According to various embodiments, gripper 100 can contain one or more sensors including a pressure sensor 150, as shown in FIG. 12. Pressure sensor 150 can be located within volume 115 and configured to measure the surrounding pressure. Pressure sensor 150 could be fixed to the surface of membrane 1 1 1 or collar 112. In other embodiments, pressure sensor 150 can be positioned in base 120 and in fluid communication with volume 115. In yet another embodiment, pressure sensor 150 can be attached to the exterior of head 1 0 or base 120, for example, at auxiliary ports 128. Pressure sensor 150 can be in communication with a processor 151 and configured to transmit representative pressure reading periodically or continuously to processor 151. Communication between pressure sensor 150 and processor 151 can be through communication cabling (not shown), signal wiring (not shown), or wirelessly.
[0162] Processor 151 can be programmed to receive a representative pressure reading from pressure sensor 150. Based on the pressure reading, processor 151 can control the vacuum within volume 1 15 to ensure adequate (i.e., sufficient magnitude) vacuum is present in volume 115 to enable grasping of the object. For example, processor 151 could be programmed such that gripper 100 would not begin lifting an object until reaching a minimum vacuum magnitude, for example, 15 inch-Hg, 20 inch-Hg, 25 inch-Hg, or 29.9 inch-Hg. Processor 151 can control the vacuum in various ways. For example, processor 151 could adjust the duration (i.e., increase or decrease) of time the vacuum is applied or could increase the positive pressure and/or flow rate of fluid to venturi vacuum generators 127. In other embodiments, processor 151 could be configured to control the number of venturi vacuum generators 127 online by controlling valves that isolate each venturi vacuum generator.
[0163] In some embodiments, the pressure reading can be used to detect leaking or failure of membrane 1 11. For example, processor 151 can maintain a running baseline of the pressure measurement when one or more input variables (e.g., pressure, flow, duration, etc.) are generally maintained. If the pressure reading is below the expected values, this decrease may indicate a leak or failure of membrane 1 1 1.
[0164] According to various embodiments, a sensor (e.g., pressure sensor 150) can be used to count the number of pressure cycle's gripper 100 may undergo. The number of pressure cycles can be used to track the life cycle or fatigue of gripper 100. The pressure cycle count can be used to trigger a replacement notification to an operator. For example, after more than 150,000 pressure cycles is reached, an alert can signal to an operator that replacement of the head is recommended. The number of pressure cycles before notification may be trigger can set to values such as 50,000; 75,000; 100,000; 125,000; 150,000; 250,000; 500,000 or more.
[0165] In other embodiments, base 120 can be configured to couple to a plurality of different head 110 designs or models. For example, head 10 can vary in size, shape, membrane texture, etc. Base 120 having a modular design can allow for quick retooling or change out of head 1 10. [0166] A method of using gripper 100 is described below according to an exemplary embodiment. A flow chart detailing steps of the method is shown in FIG. 13. According to various embodiments, the method can include coupling a base 120 to a head 1 10, as described above. Fasteners 122 or other mechanism can be used for coupling. In other embodiments, head 1 10 can be coupled directly to a mounting plate 140 or a robotic member.
[0167] The method can further comprise positioning head 1 10 in contact with object 300 causing membrane 1 1 1 to deform to the geometry of object 300. Prior to contacting object 300 or while contacting object 300, the method may also include applying a positive pressure. The positive pressure may be pulsed or a steady stream configured to reset the flowable material 117 prior to contact with the object or cause the flowable material 1 17 to surround the object upon contact.
[0168] The method can further comprise applying a vacuum to head 1 10 to create a partial vacuum in volume 115 defined by membrane 11 1 to decrease the fluidity of flowable material 1 17 and to grasp object 300. As described above, the vacuum can be created by one or more venturi vacuum generators 127 or other vacuum generation means (e.g., pump, vacuum reservoir, etc.). The vacuum can be produced from with base 120 or in other embodiments, the vacuum can be produced exterior to gripper 100 and supplied to head 1 10.
[0169] The method can further comprise sealing the partial vacuum within volume 115 to maintain the fluidity of the flowable material. Various control devices can be used to seal the partial vacuum within the volume. For example, check valves (e.g., CV1 , CV2, and CV3) can be used as described above to seal the vacuum. In other embodiments, solenoid valves (e.g., SV1 , SV2, and SV3) can be used to seal the vacuum. Combination solenoid check valves configured for passive and active operation may also be utilized. The control devices that seal the vacuum can be located within head 1 10, base 120, or can be external to the gripper 100. By sealing the partial vacuum the leakage from volume 1 15 can be limited to a pressure change of less than about 5 inch-Hg over a time period ranging from between about 1 second and 30 seconds.
[0170] The method can further comprise transferring a portion of the tensile force applied to the membrane by flowable material 117 and object 300 to head 110. For example, a support member located within the volume can be configured to couple with the flowable material to receive at least portion of a tensile force applied to the membrane.
[0171] The method can further comprise applying a positive pressure to head 110 to at least partially fluidize flowable material 117. As described above, a positive pressure can be supplied to volume 1 15 via first passage 123A. The method can further comprise releasing pressure from volume 115, first passage 123A, or second passage 124A through a safety valve when the pressure exceeds a high pressure threshold. As described above, the safety valve can be a check valve (e.g., CV3) and the released air can be discharged from outlet port 125 through silencer 129. The safety valve can be configured to open and release pressure when that pressure exceeds about atmospheric pressure.
[0172] The method can further comprise reducing the operating sound level by at least 10 decibels. As described above, positive pressure can be discharged through silencer 129. Silencer 129 can be configured to reduce the exhaust noise by at least 10 decibels.
[0173] The method can further comprise a pressure associated with the flowable material and controlling a pressure within volume 115 based on the pressure associated with the flowable material. As described above, a pressure sensor 150 can be installed in base 120 or head 10 and configured to measure a pressure associated with the flowable material. Pressure sensor 150 can be in communication with a processor 151. Processor 151 can be configured to control the positive pressure or the vacuum applied to volume 1 15.
[0174] As shown in FIG. 13, the method can be repeated over and over to perform a grasp and release of one or more objects. The method can further comprise tracking the number of pressure cycles using pressure sensor 150. As described above, by tracking the number of pressure cycles a life cycle estimate for head 1 10 can be determined. In addition, the pressure cycle count can be used to determine when replacement is recommended or when to trigger a notification for replacement.
[0175] Other embodiments of the present disclosure will be apparent to those skilled in the art from consideration of the specification and practice of the present disclosure disclosed herein. For example, one or more components listed above can be made integral via suitable manufacturing techniques. In particular, 3D- printing could be used to form a single-piece base 120 or a single-piece collar 112. In addition, one or more components in base 120 could be located in head 110. Head 1 10 and base 120 could be irreversible coupled and could be made integral. It is intended that the specification and examples be considered as exemplary only, with a true scope and spirit of the present disclosure being indicated by the following claims.

Claims

CLAIMS WHAT IS CLAIMED IS:
1. A gripper, comprising:
a head comprising:
a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material; and
a base configured to releasably and fluidly couple to the head, comprising:
a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume;
a second passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a venturi vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume;
a first control device in fluid communication with the first passage and configured to control a flow of fluid into the volume; and
a second control device in fluid communication with the second passage and configured to control the partial vacuum to the volume.
2. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the membrane includes at least one of an elastomeric material, vinyl, cloth, polyester film, and metal foil.
3. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the flowable material includes granules comprising a material selected from at least one of metal, semiconductor, plastic, polymer, coffee, corn, glass, sand, rice, sawdust, nut shells, seed, and rock.
4. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the venturi vacuum generator comprises a plurality of venturi vacuum generators arranged in a parallel flow configuration.
5. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein at least one of the first control device and the second control device includes a passive check valve.
6. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the base includes a safety valve configured to open and release the fluid flow and relieve pressure if a pressure associated with the fluid flow within at least one of the first and second passages exceeds a pressure threshold.
7. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the base further comprises at least one auxiliary port in fluid communication with at least one of the first passage, the second passage, and the volume.
8. The gripper of claim 1 , further comprising a silencer configured to lower a decibel level of a fluid flow exhausted from the silencer.
9. The gripper of claim 8, wherein the silencer is fluidly connected to at least one of the venturi vacuum generator, the first passage, the second passage, and the volume.
10. The gripper of claim 1 , further comprising at least one sensor positioned to detect a pressure within the volume and configured to transmit a signal associated with the pressure to a processor.
1 1. The gripper of claim 10, wherein the processor is configured to control the vacuum within the volume based on the signal.
12. The gripper of claim 1 , wherein the base further comprises a mounting surface configured to releasably couple to a mounting plate configured to releasably couple to a robotic member.
13. The gripper of claim 1 , further comprising a filter configured to prevent passage of the flowable material from the volume.
14. A base for a modular robotic gripper, configured to releasably couple to a head containing a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material, comprising:
a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume;
a second passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a venturi vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum and the venturi vacuum generator is further in fluid communication with the outlet port and the volume;
a first control device in fluid communication with the first passage and the volume; and
a second control device in fluid communication with the second passage and the volume.
15. A head for a modular robotic gripper, comprising:
a flexible membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material; a filter in fluid communication with the volume; and
a collar configured to releasably couple to at least one of a base, a mounting plate, and a robotic member, wherein the collar includes a passage in fluid communication with the volume and configured to receive the filter.
16. The head of claim 15, wherein the partial vacuum is supplied by at least one of a venturi vacuum generator, a pump, and a vacuum reservoir.
17. The head of claim 15, wherein the collar further comprises a support member located within the volume and configured to couple with the flowable material to receive at least a portion of a tensile force applied to the head.
18. A method of grasping an object using a gripper, comprising:
coupling a base to a head that includes a membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material; and
applying a vacuum to the head to create a partial vacuum in the volume to decrease the fluidity of the flowable material and to grasp the object.
19. The method of claim 18, further comprising sealing the partial vacuum to maintain the level of fluidity of the flowable material.
20. The method of claim 19, wherein sealing the partial vacuum includes limiting a pressure change within the volume to less than about 5 inch-Hg over a time period ranging from between about 1 second and about 30 seconds.
21. The method of claim 18, further comprising applying a positive pressure to the head to at least partially fluidize the flowable material.
22. The method of claim 18, further comprising releasing pressure from the volume through a safety valve when the pressure exceeds a pressure threshold.
23. The method of claim 18, further comprising reducing an operating sound level by at least 10 decibels.
24. The method of claim 18, further comprising:
monitoring a pressure associated with the flowable material; and controlling a pressure within the volume based on the pressure associated with the flowable material.
25. The method of claim 24, further comprising tracking a number of pressure cycles using the pressure associated with the flowable material.
26. A robot end effector, comprising:
a first component configured to couple to the robot;
a second component configured to couple to the first component; and a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the first component to the second component;
wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to:
couple the first component and the second component as a result of a movement of at least one of the first component and the second component toward the other, thereby by engaging the coupling mechanism; and maintain an open position when the first component and the second component are decoupled, and then passively and reversibly transition to a coupled position by the movement.
27. The effector of claim 26, wherein the second component is a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material and in fluid communication with a flow of fluid at positive pressure and a vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume.
28. The effector of claim 26, wherein coupling or decoupling of the first component and the second component is achieved by movement of the robot relative to a fixture in proximity to the robot.
29. The effector of claim 26, wherein coupling or decoupling of the first component and the second component is manually actuated.
30. The effector of claim 26, wherein the first component is a base.
31. A gripper, comprising:
a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material;
a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to a mounting component, wherein the coupling mechanism includes:
two or more latches, each latch having:
a roller attached to a latch body;
a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate; and
a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body; and
a rim formed on the head, the rim having:
an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the head and the mounting component; and a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling.
32. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the mounting component includes at least one of a base, a latching plate, a mounting plate, and a robotic member.
33. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the coupling mechanism further includes a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that a displacement of the connecting element away from the head causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member and uncoupling of the head from the mounting component.
34. The gripper of claim 33, wherein the coupling mechanism further includes a plurality of posts positioned adjacent to the connecting element and configured to restrict the displacement of the connecting element in a substantially vertical direction.
35. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the mounting component is a base, the two or more latches are attached to the base, and the base includes:
a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume; and a second passage, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume.
36. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to:
couple the head to the mounting component as a result of a movement of either the mounting component or the head toward the other of the mounting component or the head; and
decouple the head from the mounting component as a result of movement of the base relative to a fixture.
37. The gripper of claim 36, wherein a robotic arm is configured to control the movement of the mounting component and the head.
38. The gripper of claim 36, wherein an operator manually causes the movement of the head toward the base.
39. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to join one or more connections between the head and the mounting component, wherein the one or more connections can be at least one of electrical, fluid, and pneumatic.
40. The gripper of claim 31 , wherein the latch springs are configured to rotate the roller and the latch body to an open receiving position when the coupling mechanism is uncoupled.
41. A gripper, comprising:
a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material;
a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to a mounting component, wherein the coupling mechanism includes:
a first set of magnets positioned at an upper surface of the head; a second set of magnets positioned at a lower surface of the mounting component corresponding to the first set of magnets; and
one or more levers associated with the first set of magnets or the second set of magnets and configured such that a movement of the one or more levers causes rotation of the set of magnets;
wherein a magnetic attraction force maintains the position of the head relative to the mounting component when the first set of magnets and the second set of magnets are aligned, and movement of the one or more levers is configure to cause rotation of the second set of magnets and a substantial reduction of the magnetic attraction force, thereby facilitating an uncoupling of the head from the mounting component.
42. The gripper of claim 41 , further including one or more spring plungers associated with the one or more levers, wherein the spring plungers are configured to prevent unintended movement of the one or more levers.
43. The gripper of claim 41 , wherein the mounting component includes an inlet port configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive or negative pressure and direct that to the volume with the head.
44. A method of replacing a first head coupled to a mounting component of a gripper with a second head, wherein the gripper is attached to a robotic arm, the method comprising:
moving the robotic arm in order to position the gripper within a fixture;
releasing the first head by moving the robotic arm relative to the fixture such that the fixture displaces a portion of a coupling mechanism associated with the mounting component, wherein displacement of the portion of the coupling
mechanism causes rotation of one or more latches attached to the mounting component that secure the head to the mounting component;
positioning the mounting component relative to the second head such that the latches substantially align with a rim of the second head; and
moving the robotic arm toward the mounting component so that the mounting component engages the rim of the second head displacing the latches until reaching a coupled position.
45. The method of claim 44, wherein the robotic arm replaces the first head with the second head when the first head is worn out.
46. The method of claim 44, further comprising selecting the second head based on at least one of a size, a shape, or an orientation of an object to be gripped by the grip per.
47. The method of claim 44, wherein the robotic arm automatically initiates replacement of the first head and selection of the second head based on one or more of the shape, size, or orientation of an object that is to be gripped by the gripper.
48. A coupling mechanism for releasably coupling a first component and a second component, comprising:
two or more latches attached to an end of the first component, each latch having:
a roller attached to a latch body;
a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate;
a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body;
a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that displacement of the connecting element toward the first component causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member; and a rim formed at an end of the second component, the rim having: an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the first and the second component, and a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling;
wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to
couple the first component to the second component as a result of movement of either the base or the head toward the other of the base or the head; and
uncouple the first component from the second component as a result of movement of the first component relative to a fixture.
49. A head for a modular robotic gripper, comprising:
a flexible membrane at least partially defining a volume containing a flowable material;
a passage in fluid communication with the volume; and
a collar surrounding the passage, the collar being configured to releasably couple by way of a coupling mechanism to a mounting component;
wherein the coupling mechanism includes:
two or more latches attached to a base, each latch having:
a roller attached to a latch body;
a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate; and
a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body;
a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that displacement of the connecting element toward the first component causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member; and
a rim formed on the head, the rim having:
an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and cause rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the head and the base; and
a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the roller upon completion of coupling.
50. A gripper, comprising:
a head having a membrane at least partially defining a volume configured to contain a flowable material; a base having:
a first passage configured to receive a flow of fluid at positive pressure, wherein the first passage is in fluid communication with the volume;
a second passage, wherein the second passage is in fluid communication with a vacuum generator configured to generate a partial vacuum in the volume; and
a coupling mechanism configured to releasably and fluidly couple the head to the base, wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to:
couple the head to the base as a result of a movement of the base or the head toward the other of the base or the head; and
uncouple the head from the base as a result of movement of the base relative to a fixture.
51. The gripper of claim 50, wherein the coupling mechanism includes: two or more latches attached to the base, each latch having:
a roller attached to a latch body;
a pivot member having a central axis about which the latch body and the roller are configured to rotate;
a latch spring surrounding a portion of the pivot member configured to apply a spring force on the latch body; and
a connecting element coupled to the two or more latches, wherein the connecting element is configured such that displacement of the connecting element toward the first component causes rotation of the roller about the pivot member; and a rim formed on the head, the rim having:
an engagement surface configured to contact the rollers and facilitate rotation of the rollers about the pivot member during coupling of the head and the base, and
a locking surface configured to maintain contact with the rollers upon completion of coupling.
52. The gripper of claim 50, wherein a robotic arm is configured to control the movement of the base relative to the fixture.
53. The gripper of claim 50, wherein an operator manually causes the movement of the head toward the base.
54. The gripper of claim 50, wherein the coupling mechanism is configured to join one or more connections between the head and the base, wherein the one or more connections can be at least one of electrical, fluid, and pneumatic.
55. The gripper of claim 50, wherein the latch springs are configured to rotate the rollers and the latch bodies to an open receiving position when the base is not coupled to the head.
PCT/US2015/014970 2014-02-11 2015-02-09 Jamming grippers and methods of use WO2015123128A1 (en)

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