Research Topic

Hands in the Real World: Connecting End-Effector Design, Sensitivity, and Behavior

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About this Research Topic

This collection seeks to give a clear view on the recent trends in soft underactuated hands and their applications. It aims to support and propose concrete actions to improve hand design and behavior and bridge the gap between academia and application in the field. The collection is based on the results of IROS 2018 workshop “Hands in the Real World: Connecting End-Effector Design, Sensitivity, and Behavior”.

Today robots face a rapidly expanding range of potential applications beyond the lab, from remote exploration and search-and-rescue to household assistance and agriculture. In many of these cases, the focus of interaction is via the robot’s end-effectors.

In the real-world, robot hands and grippers experience severe conditions: they may be subject to frequent impacts, they may have to work in dust or under water, they have limits on mass because they disproportionately affect the inertia of the robot’s limbs, and programmability of a few intuitive parameters determines practical usability. It is essential to simplify hand design – by e.g. minimizing the number of actuators, vulnerable parts, sensors etc. – without compromising functionality. These considerations largely motivate the explosion of research into underactuated end-effectors, which overcome these limitations through the physical embodiment of hand functionalities, allowing a range of grasp types and affording physical robustness and simplicity. Similarly, soft hands are increasingly deployed in a variety of applications, ranging broadly from ocean exploration, to home daily life activity as prosthesis or as smart end-effector for industry and agriculture.

A possible limitation of underactuated end-effectors is that robotic manipulation tends to be slow and incapable when faced with unforeseen tasks or conditions. This research topic focuses on the field application of underactuated robotic end-effectors, lying at the intersection of cutting-edge hardware, behavior and sensitivity. To overcome traditional underactuated end-effector limitations, it is essential to create interconnections between these pillars of robot design. Experts in controls and sensitivity can inspire new approaches to resilient functionality. Mechanical hardware designers can enable new possibilities in control, through the development of novel hands that can be effectively used outside of the lab.

The collection discusses the process for selecting hand kinematics and sensors during the initial creation of a new end-effector. How is function already influencing form? Which are current design decisions during the fabrication phase of robots, where function is often at odds with resilience? What fixed assumptions about the hand could change in collaboration with mechanical designers? How can deformability of underactuated hand be employed advantageously?

Finally, one essential aspect limiting the industrial appealing to underactuated grippers is the inability to formally compare different designs, or a lack of benchmarks. Performance qualification today represents an open challenge, how might this become more efficient and universal?

This collection looks to include contributions on the following themes:

• Dexterous Manipulation
• Novel soft robotic hand design
• Real world applications of artificial hands
• Novel sensing and control strategies
• Haptics
• Benchmarking and performance analysis

This Research Topic welcomes contributions in the form of Original Research, Reviews, Methods, Perspectives, and Hypothesis and Theory article types.


Keywords: Soft Robots, Underactuation, Field Robotics, Haptics, Mechanisms and Design


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

This collection seeks to give a clear view on the recent trends in soft underactuated hands and their applications. It aims to support and propose concrete actions to improve hand design and behavior and bridge the gap between academia and application in the field. The collection is based on the results of IROS 2018 workshop “Hands in the Real World: Connecting End-Effector Design, Sensitivity, and Behavior”.

Today robots face a rapidly expanding range of potential applications beyond the lab, from remote exploration and search-and-rescue to household assistance and agriculture. In many of these cases, the focus of interaction is via the robot’s end-effectors.

In the real-world, robot hands and grippers experience severe conditions: they may be subject to frequent impacts, they may have to work in dust or under water, they have limits on mass because they disproportionately affect the inertia of the robot’s limbs, and programmability of a few intuitive parameters determines practical usability. It is essential to simplify hand design – by e.g. minimizing the number of actuators, vulnerable parts, sensors etc. – without compromising functionality. These considerations largely motivate the explosion of research into underactuated end-effectors, which overcome these limitations through the physical embodiment of hand functionalities, allowing a range of grasp types and affording physical robustness and simplicity. Similarly, soft hands are increasingly deployed in a variety of applications, ranging broadly from ocean exploration, to home daily life activity as prosthesis or as smart end-effector for industry and agriculture.

A possible limitation of underactuated end-effectors is that robotic manipulation tends to be slow and incapable when faced with unforeseen tasks or conditions. This research topic focuses on the field application of underactuated robotic end-effectors, lying at the intersection of cutting-edge hardware, behavior and sensitivity. To overcome traditional underactuated end-effector limitations, it is essential to create interconnections between these pillars of robot design. Experts in controls and sensitivity can inspire new approaches to resilient functionality. Mechanical hardware designers can enable new possibilities in control, through the development of novel hands that can be effectively used outside of the lab.

The collection discusses the process for selecting hand kinematics and sensors during the initial creation of a new end-effector. How is function already influencing form? Which are current design decisions during the fabrication phase of robots, where function is often at odds with resilience? What fixed assumptions about the hand could change in collaboration with mechanical designers? How can deformability of underactuated hand be employed advantageously?

Finally, one essential aspect limiting the industrial appealing to underactuated grippers is the inability to formally compare different designs, or a lack of benchmarks. Performance qualification today represents an open challenge, how might this become more efficient and universal?

This collection looks to include contributions on the following themes:

• Dexterous Manipulation
• Novel soft robotic hand design
• Real world applications of artificial hands
• Novel sensing and control strategies
• Haptics
• Benchmarking and performance analysis

This Research Topic welcomes contributions in the form of Original Research, Reviews, Methods, Perspectives, and Hypothesis and Theory article types.


Keywords: Soft Robots, Underactuation, Field Robotics, Haptics, Mechanisms and Design


Important Note: All contributions to this Research Topic must be within the scope of the section and journal to which they are submitted, as defined in their mission statements. Frontiers reserves the right to guide an out-of-scope manuscript to a more suitable section or journal at any stage of peer review.

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