Industrial Electronics

Video: MIT develops robots that can manipulate cables

15 July 2020

Developers at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (CSAIL) have created robots that can manipulate thin flexible objects such as ropes, wires and cables using a two fingered gripper.

The system uses a pair of soft robotic grippers with high resolution tactile sensors to manipulate freely moving cables. MIT said this could be used for anything from industrial applications to household tasks and may one day be able to tie knots, shape wires or suture.

The robotic grippers are lightweight and quick moving, allowing nimble, real-time adjustments of force and position. The tips of the fingers are vision-based “GelSight” sensors built from soft rubber with embedded cameras. The gripper is mounted to a robotic arm that moves as part of a control system.

MIT CSAIL then created a perception and control framework to allow cable manipulation. The GelSight sensors are used to estimate the pose of the cable between the fingers and measure the forces as the cable slides.

Upon testing, the gripper could follow a USB cable starting from a random grasp position and the second gripper could be able to move the cable “hand over hand” to find the end of the cable. The gripper can also adapt to cables of different materials and thicknesses.

Another demo saw the robot plugging earbuds into a cell phone, sliding the cable between its grippers and stopping when it felt the plug touch its fingers, adjusting the plug’s pose and, finally, inserting the plug into the jack.

“Manipulating soft objects is so common in our daily lives, like cable manipulation, cloth folding and string knotting,” said Yu She, MIT postdoctoral associate. “In many cases, we would like to have robots help humans do this kind of work, especially when the tasks are repetitive, dull, or unsafe.”

The next steps are to study more complex cable manipulation tasks such as cable routing and cable inserting through obstacles. Eventually, CSAIL wants to explore using autonomous cable manipulation tasks in the automotive industry.

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