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‘First force-controlled parallel robot’ senses forces down to 0.1N

14 February, 2023

A Chinese robot developer has announced what it describes as “the world’s first force-controlled parallel robot”. Shanghai-based Flexiv says that its Moonlight robot will be ideal for applications that require precision motion and force control, such as fastening screws, polishing and handling precision loads.

Incorporating a proprietary force control technology, the robot can measure forces accurately down to 0.1N, and can handle delicate objects. This makes tasks such as sanding uneven surfaces possible, while guaranteeing output quality and almost eliminating the risk of damaging workpieces.

According to Flexiv, the new robot can handle tasks usually that usually require conventional robot arms, while maintaining the agility and speed of a parallel (delta) robot. It boasts industry-leading levels of repeatability and accuracy, an ability to be installed at any angle, and integrated AI (artificial intelligence). It is aimed at applications that require flexibility, reliability and adaptability.

“Moonlight is a combination of our award-winning Rizon series of robots and the industry-proven parallel bot design,” says Flexiv’s director of product development, Hao Jiang. “We saw that in some specific applications, customers needed a powerful, cost-effective robotic solution which combines highly precise force control with adaptability, so that’s what we built. With its increased speed and greater precision, Moonlight boosts production efficiency while retaining a multi-role capacity.”

The robot can handle loads of up to 7kg (compared to 4kg for Flexiv’s seven-axis Rizon 4 robot arm) at speeds of up to 1.5m/s – twice as fast as the Rizon 4. At lower speeds, it can handle 12kg loads.

The Moonlight has three degrees of freedom and a reach of 800mm in diameter and 400mm in height. It offers a repeatability of 0.03mm. It complies with Pl d safety requirements and supports EtherCat communications. It is IP65-protected, allowing regular cleaning operations.

Flexiv says that its Moonlight force-controlled robot re-invents the parallel robot in terms of both hardware and software

As well as being capable of surface treatment applications such as polishing, grinding, deburring and sanding, the Moonlight robot is also suitable for delicate tasks such as inserting screws into PCBs without risking damage to the boards. The robot’s ability to operate at any angle allows it to make the best use of the space available.

The Moonlight robot is due to be released in the third quarter of 2023.

Flexiv has also used its force control technology to produce a robotic gripper that that, it says, can pick up almost any item, regardless of its shape or surface texture. One aim of the Grav gripper is to reduce how often end-of-arm tools need to be changed. It can be used either on Flexiv’s own robots or on third-party machines. The force control technology allows the gripper to sense forces of less than a gramme. It can be used, for example, to insert small components, transfer delicate objects, or to tend machines.

Flexiv, was spun out of Stanford University in 2016. As well as its headquarters in China, it has offices in the US, Taiwan and Singapore. It produces adaptive robots that integrate force control, computer vision and AI technologies. In 2019, it attracted $22m of funding, followed by more than $100m in 2020, and a further amount of almost $100m in 2022. It employs around 300 people.

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