Manipulation is an advanced capability that sets robots apart from most other computerized or automated systems. A robot’s ability to physically interact with and modify its environment—that is, manipulate it—provides possibilities for a vast number of applications.
However, manipulation is a field still in the early stages of development. Although laboratory research has yielded impressive improvements in the dexterity and speed of robotic manipulators—many exceeding the capabilities of a human hand in some respects—their adaptation in industry has thus far been limited. There are many opportunities for companies willing and capable of productizing and commercializing robotic manipulators that will help to open up new applications for the robotics industry as a whole.
Robotic manipulators come in many shapes and sizes. The manipulation systems themselves typically consist of both a robotic arm and an end effector. The simplest end effector example is a suction cup. With an attachment to a vacuum source, a suction cup can enable a robotic arm to lift and move a wide variety of objects. However, a suction cup’s capabilities are limited to lifting and moving— or “picking and placing,” as it is commonly referred to. Such a manipulator may require objects to have certain properties—a flat surface, for example—and may require the objects be oriented in a specific way before it can interact with them. Suction cups are also incapable of additional actions such as reorienting an object, or interacting with a control feature such as a knob or button.
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