Last week we discussed how electrostatic technology might find practical integration into robotic grippers and delivery drones. However, if we are willing to see electroadhesion as a kind of "super duct tape” that can be easily turned on and off by an electric switch, currently we seem to be only putting the property of “adhesion” to use here.
How about the “controllable by electricity” part, then?
The California-based company we talked about in last week’s article, Grabit, has actually demonstrated another dimension of applied electroadhesion in a different line of videos—by way of wall-climbing robots and smart conveyor belts.
First, let’s look at the “limbless robotic wall-climber” demo video for a taste of how it is done:
In the video, we can see how the appearance of this kind of robot differs from you common variety of wall-climbing robotic army: it looks more like a miniature continuous track we often see on military tanks than a robot, seeing it has no visible “legs” or “hands” to accomplish the climbing task in question. However, the track is in fact a belt of electrodes that can generate alternating electric charges and thus induce attraction on target surfaces, allowing it to both "stick to" a vertical surface and “climb” a wall steadily up and down without falling off.
It is also mentioned in the video that if the robot is paused and set on “standby” mode, it can still stay on the wall for a pretty long time, since it doesn’t require much electric power to go on.
From this show of wall-climbing spectacle, we then advance further to the "smart conveyor belt" to see how this technology can be used in an industrial or commercial setting:
At the first glance, this conveyor belt looks barely different from the likes onto which you push your metal shopping carts in the malls. However, appearances are where the similarities stop for the following three reasons:
1) It can attract more than metals and conductive materials.
No matter how the surface conditions of the goods are—wrapped or bare; in a cardboard box or in plastic bags; porous, rough, or dusty—it doesn’t make a difference to this kind of conveyor belt. The laws of electrostatics apply to everything.
2) It can carry heavier goods at steeper angles.
According to the introduction in the demo video, this kind of conveyor belt can be built on a slope of as steep as 40 degrees to carry goods of as heavy as 50 lbs/about 22.5 kg (at least)—which comes in quite handy for limited storage space.
3) It can accelerate or pause at will the delivery of individual goods on the same conveyor belt to the point of selective distribution.
Since the whole point of electroadhesion starts and ends at whether the power is on, any single electrode plate on the belt can instantly gain or lose its adhesive quality to “pause” or “rush” the delivery, determined by how fragile or heavy the particular goods are. We can then use this quality for automatic selection or distribution (see the above illustration; the green plates mean that electricity is “on” and red plates mean “off”), convenient for quality tests and scanning stations.
If the development of electroadhesion technology matures and can actually be optimized for broader usage, its potential in future delivery system does seem quite promising from what we have seen here.