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Description

Hyper-redundant manipulators can be fragile, expensive, and limited in their flexibility due to the distributed and bulky actuators that are typically used to achieve the precision and degrees of freedom (DOFs) required. Here, a manipulator is proposed that is robust, high-force, low-cost, and highly articulated without employing traditional actuators mounted at the manipulator joints. Rather, local tunable stiffness is coupled with off-board spooler motors and tension cables to achieve complex manipulator configurations. Tunable stiffness is achieved by reversible jamming of granular media, which—by applying a vacuum to enclosed grains—causes the grains to transition between solid-like states and liquid-like ones. Experimental studies were conducted to identify grains with high strength-to-weight performance. A prototype of the manipulator is presented with performance analysis, with emphasis on speed, strength, and articulation. This novel design for a manipulator—and use of jamming for robotic applications in general—could greatly benefit applications such as human-safe robotics and systems in which robots need to exhibit high flexibility to conform to their environments.

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