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Touch-free gripper uses sound waves to hold tiny objects

03 February, 2020

A Swiss researcher is developing a gripper technology that uses ultrasonic waves to hold and manipulate small objects without touching them. Marcel Schuck from ETH Zurich university believes that his invention could be used to handle fragile objects such as semiconductor devices and watch parts that could be damaged by conventional grippers.

Although soft, rubber-like grippers are available, they are easily contaminated and do not provide good positioning accuracy.

Another drawback of conventional grippers is that a different gripper is needed for almost every new shape of object that they need to handle. A single ultrasonic gripper, operating on a principle known as “acoustic levitation”, can handle objects of different shapes and sizes. And because it could position a tiny object precisely, it could be used on the end of a robot arm that was not itself particularly precise.

Schuck’s prototype device consists of a pair of hemispherical shells lined on their inside with lots of tiny loudspeakers. Using software to control the ultrasonic waves produced by the speakers, pressure points are created that can trap tiny objects and suspend them so that they appear to float in the air.

Marcel Schuck with his acoustic gripper that can suspend fragile objects without touching them.
Photo: ETH Zurich / Stefan Weiss

Schuck wants to use part of a 150,000 Swiss franc ($155,000) fellowship grant to create a development kit for potential users. If he can demonstrate that his ideas can work practically in the real world, he might start up a business next year to commercialise the technology.

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