Edited by Mary C. Gannon,
senior associate editor

Pneumatics is often the choice in robotic automation applications, where gripping and turning objects is necessary. But when it comes to soft or flexible objects, robots often have difficulty handling the task, so they are not suitable for the job. Robots just don't have a sense of feel - until now, with the development of the Active Contact Flange (ACF) from FerRobotics Compliant Robot Technology GmbH, Linz, Austria.

The ACF is a compliance device that fits between the end of a robot arm and the end effector. It acts as a sort of cushion to smooth out motion and force, allowing the end effector to follow irregular contours. It manipulates, polishes, pulls or presses like a worker's gentle hand.

FerRobotics-ROMO flexible robot is equipped with elastic degrees of freedom in seven axes. This provides exceptional touch sensitivity but entails slower speed and less repetition accuracy compared to standard stiff robots. The technology is based on pneumatically driven actuators and controlling software.

Combining the advantages of traditional robots with the ACF results in a common, fast and accurate, stiff robot equipped with an elastic and touch sensitive element. This specific flange performs comparable to human joints.

This hybrid system provides the new technical standard for countless applications, which could not previously be automated, either traditionally or with our purely flexible concept, in a standard setup. We will provide more in-depth details on this technology in our October issue, but in the meantime, see a video of the system in action. It demonstrates how the ACF effectively polishes an object by tracking the random surface sensitively, focusing on the system's speed.