Calculated grabs: A sensor lets the system detect the direction of approach; the software then calculates the most effective grasping positions.
“I believe it’s the way forward for automated grasping,” adds Eric Berger, the codirector of the personal robotics program at Willow Garage, a robotics research center in California. “From my perspective, the algorithmic work … is novel and useful, but the most exciting thing about what they’re doing is the different approaches they’re taking to applying these new algorithms to the real world.”
In their experiments, the Columbia team preprogrammed the system with a rough idea of the shape of the object it would grab. The next step is to couple the robotic grasper to a system that can evaluate completely unfamiliar objects in the real world.
Other research groups are making progress in this area. For example, Intel has created technology that uses electric fields to carefully sense delicate objects within reach, while Andrew Ng and colleagues at Stanford University have developed a robot that can calculate the best place to grab onto an object that it hasn’t seen before.