'Moonlight': World's first force-controlled parallel robot is here

It's ideal for applications that require precision motion and force control.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The Moonlight robot.
The Moonlight robot.

A Chinese robot developer called Flexiv has engineered "the world's first force-controlled parallel robot" for applications that require precision motion and force control, such as fastening screws, polishing items, and handling precision loads. The robot is called Moonlight.

The robot has the unique ability to measure forces accurately down to 0.1N (Newton), and can even handle delicate objects with great precision and care, according to a report published on Tuesday by Drives & Controls.

Conventional robot arms

According to its maker, the new robot can take on tasks that usually require conventional robot arms, while maintaining the agility and speed of a parallel robot.

"Moonlight is a combination of our award-winning Rizon series of robots and the industry-proven parallel bot design," said Flexiv's director of product development, Hao Jiang. 

"We saw that in some specific applications, customers needed a powerful, cost-effective robotic solution which combines highly precise force control with adaptability, so that's what we built. With its increased speed and greater precision, Moonlight boosts production efficiency while retaining a multi-role capacity."

The robot can handle 12kg loads at low speeds and loads of up to 7kg at speeds of up to 1.5m/s.

The Moonlight robot complies with Pl d safety requirements, supports EtherCat communications, and is IP65-protected. It is particularly, adept at surface treatment applications such as polishing, grinding, deburring, and sanding.

Since it can operate at any angle, the robot is also suitable for delicate tasks such as inserting screws into PCBs without risking damage to the boards, claimed the report.

A robotic gripper

The Moonlight robot can be complemented by a Flexiv robotic gripper that the company says can pick up almost any item, regardless of its shape or surface texture. It's called the Grav gripper, and it aims to reduce how often end-of-arm tools need to be changed, according to the report by Drives & Controls.

Flexiv originated out of Stanford University in 2016 and today has headquarters in China, the U.S., Taiwan, and Singapore while employing around 300 people in total.

The Moonlight robot is due to be released in the third quarter of 2023.

In December 2021, engineers at the National University of Singapore unveiled their "soft touch," a reconfigurable hybrid robotics system that was inspired by the human hand. Being highly adaptable, the gripper was able to grip and manipulate a range of different objects from small, soft, and delicate things to large, heavy, and bulky ones.

In addition, companies have even tried to invent robots that can feel the sense of touch. The aim is to make robotics more adept at daily tasks.

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