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Technology

Nimble robot ties strings into knots

TOKYO -- A simple knot, a lasso, a figure-eight knot and a bowline knot. These are just a few of the knots that can be tied by a robot developed at the University of Electro-Communications here.

     Using its pair of three-fingered arms, the robot can twist strings, form loops and reposition its grips to tie knots on its own without the aid of fasteners. To do this, it uses image-processing and infrared sensors to identify and grasp the two ends of the string and then follows the rules of its computer program to tie the string into different kinds of knots.

     The robot not only ties knots, but can use these knots to bind objects like plastic bottles and cushions.

     Right now, the robot can handle strings in diameters of 5mm and 8mm. But by giving the fingers more strength, it should be able to manipulate thicker ropes.

     How might this technology find practical use? The team led by Takashi Suehiro and Shunsuke Kudoh envision industrial robots that can bend soft materials and perform tasks with cables. They hope to have a practical version ready within five years.

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