Towards a universal end effector : the design and development of production technology's intelligent robot hand : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Technology in Engineering and Automation at Massey University
Research into robot hands for industrial use began in the early 1980s and there are now many examples of robot hands in existence. The reason for research into robot hands is that standard robot end effectors have to be designed for each application and are therefore costly. A universal end effector is needed that will be able to perform any parts handling operation or use other tools for other industrial operations. Existing robot hand research would therefore benefit from new concepts, designs and control systems. The Department of Production Technology is developing an intelligent robot hand of a novel configuration, with the ultimate aim of producing a universal end effector. The concept of PTIRH (Production Technology's Intelligent Robot Hand) is that it is a multi-fingered manipulator with a configuration of two thumbs and two fingers. Research by the author for this thesis concentrated on five major areas. First, the background research into the state of the art in robot hand research. Second, the initiation, development and analysis of the novel configuration concept of PTIRH. Third, specification, testing and analysis of air muscle actuation, including design, development and testing of a servo pneumatic control valve for the air muscles. Fourth, choice of sensors for the robot hand, including testing and analysis of two custom made air pressure sensors. Fifth, definition, design, construction, development, testing and analysis of the mechanical structure for an early prototype of PTIRH. Development of an intelligent controller for PTIRH was outside the scope of the author's research. The results of the analysis on the air muscles showed that they could be a suitable direct drive actuator for an intelligent robotic hand. The force, pressure and position sensor results indicate that the sensors could form the basis of the feedback loop for an intelligent controller. The configuration of PTIRH enables it to grasp objects with little reliance on friction. This was demonstrated with an early prototype of the robot hand, which had one finger with actuation and three other static digits, by successfully manually arranging the digits into stable grasps of various objects.