Ultrasonic Grippers Will Allow Robots to Move Objects Without Touching Them

The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH Zurich), is developing a method for robots to carry small objects without actually physically touching them at all. Ultrasound waves can generate a pressure wave that humans can’t see or hear. This process of using soundwaves to hold objects in mid-air is called ‘Acoustic Levitation’ and it works on small relatively light objects. The prototype being developed by Marcel Schuck a researcher at ETH, holds objects in a force field created by a myriad of tiny speakers fitted on the interior of two semi-spheres. Furthermore, his software allows the object to be moved around within the semi-spheres, allowing for precise positioning, even if the robot arm itself is not accurate. This acoustic levitation technology is not actually all that new, it has been around at least 80 years and you can even buy online kits to build your own version today. However, taking it and applying it to the field of robotics opens up new applications where contamination is a real concern such as in semi-conductor manufacturing.