A robotic arm that could be used in outer space and in factories for harvesting fruit, for search and rescue, for performing medical procedures in the body and in many other applications has been developed by researchers in Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.
BGU’s minimally actuated serial robot (MASR) operates much like a snake robot, which has many connected motors to move each link, except that it uses only two motors – one to travel along the structure and another to rotate the joint it needs to flex.
“This unique minimalistic configuration, which can be applied to any serial robot with two or more links, reduces weight, size and cost,” said Dr. David Zarrouk, a senior lecturer in BGU’s mechanical engineering department and head of the bio-inspired and medical robotics lab.
It allows a robotic manipulator to achieve a wide range of movements using few actuators, which isn’t possible with other robots.
“This robot is easy to operate and likely has a number of applications, including space, agriculture, and industry,” he explained.
The robot design is ideal for space applications due to its light weight and could be used to fix malfunctioning satellites, and for docking or refueling to increase their satellite lifespan. Zarrouk also envisions harvesting fruit from trees as another potential application.
“The configuration of the MASR robot combines the best characteristics of existing robot technologies to achieve a high level of accuracy and control,” he said. “In addition, the ability to add or subtract up to four links in less than a minute [to make the arm longer or shorter] makes it possible to target quick repairs in isolated sections.”
The BGU researchers are also experimenting with adding motors to increase speed and are exploring ways to apply their minimally actuated concept to walking robots, utilizing motors that can change position along the legs and move from one to another when necessary.