Design of Robot Gripper Jaws Based on

Proceedings of the 2001 IEEE
International Conference on Robotics & Automation
Seoul, Korea • May 21-26, 2001
Design of Robot Gripper Jaws Based on Trapezoidal Modules 1
Tao Zhang and Ken Goldberg 2
IEOR Dept., UC Berkeley
part as it is acquired. We divide the grasp into three
phases: pushing, toppling and fixturing. Initially, one
jaw makes contact with the part (the “pushing
contact”). The jaw pushes the part along the worksurface until the part makes contact with the
“toppling contact” on the second jaw. At this point
the part begins to rotate (topple) from its initial
orientation to the desired orientation. During
toppling, the part is constrained by two contacts and
the surface. When the part reaches its final fixtured
orientation other jaw surfaces stop its motion. The
optimal jaw design guides the part through these
phases, avoids premature toppling, jamming, and
liftoff, and fixtures the part in form closure with
maximal linear contact.
Assembly line reliability can be increased if grippers
are carefully designed to capture and align parts.
Jaw design depends on the g eometric and mechanical
properties of the part as well as its desired
orientation. In this paper we propose a class of
modular jaws based on rapidly machineable
trapezoidal modules. An optimal jaw design is an
arrangement of trapezoidal jaw modules that
maximizes contacts between the gripper and the part
at its desired final orientation over the constraints
that: the jaws will capture and rotate the part to its
desired orientation and achieve a form-closure
grasp. Given the n-sided 2D convex projection of an
extruded polygonal part, we d evelop an implemented
O(n 5 ) algorithm to find the optimal jaw design. The
algorithm combines toppling, jamming, liftoff,
accessibility, and form-closure analysis. We verify
resulting designs by physical experiments.
There is a substantial body of research on robotic
grasping; Bicchi and Kumar provide a concise survey
in [3].
A number of papers consider part motion in the
horizontal plane and how it can be used to reduce
uncertainty. The motion of parts during grasp
acquis ition was first analyzed by Mason [13], who
studies push mechanics as a role of passive
compliance in grasping and manipulation. Erdmann
and Mason [8] explore the use of motion strategies to
reduce uncertainty in the location of objects. They
described a systematic algorithm for sensorless
manipulation to orient parts using a tilting tray. Brost
[5] applies Mason’s Rule to analyze the mechanics of
the parallel-jaw gripper and polygonal parts. He
shows that it is possible to align parts using passive
push and squeeze mechanics. Goldberg [9]
demonstrates that a modified parallel-jaw gripper
could orient polygons up to symmetry by a sequence
of normal pushes. Akella et al. [2] study a minimalist
manipulation method to feed planar parts using a one
joint robot over a conveyor belt.
Several authors address motion of parts in the
vertical (gravitational) plane during grasping. Trinkle
and Paul [16] show how to align parts in the
gravitational plane by lifting them off work-surface
using a planar gripper with two pivoting jaws. The
pre-liftoff phase analysis of their paper is related to
our toppling analysis. They generated liftability
regions corresponding to contact that cause the part
to: slide, jam, and break contact with the worksurface. We focus on design of jaw shape and show
that parts can be rotated using only translational jaw
motion. Abell and Erdmann [1] study how a planar
Grippers can be the most design-intensive
components of an assembly system [10]. Although
grippers are widely used for automated
manufacturing, assembly, and packing, the design of
gripper jaws is usually ad-hoc and can be a major
limiting factor in automated assembly.
Causey and Quinn [7] propose guidelines for the
design of grippers in manufacturing. Based upon
these criteria, we propose a modular approach where
the standard parallel-jaw gripper is augmented with
trapezoidal jaw modules.
Figure 1 Gripper jaws align the part for assembly: (a) pushing
(beginning); (b) pushing (ending); (c) toppling; and (d) fixturing.
As illustrated in Figure 1, the part is initially in
the resting pose (a). It is necessary to rotate the part
to the desired final orientation (d) for assembly. The
idea is to design the gripper jaws so as to align the
This work was supported in part by Adept Technology, Inc., a 2000 MICRO grant from the State of California,
NSF grant CDA-9726389, and NSF Presidential Faculty Fellow Award IRI-9553197.
For further information please contact [email protected]
0-7803-6475-9/01/$10.00© 2001 IEEE
Figure 1 illustrates an optimal solution. Without
loss of generality, we assume the part rotates
counterclockwise. Each jaw consists of a vertical
base-plate and a set of trapezoidal modules arranged
on the base-plate. To facilitate jaw machining and
installation, we consider a class of trapezoidal jaw
modules. Each jaw module is determined by the
locations of two vertices that make contact with the
part. The line segment between these two vertices
represents an accessible segment on an edge of the
part at its desired orientation. The objective is to find
the set of accessible segments with maximum total
We can define the problem, called OPTIMIZEJAWS, using a nonlinear programming model:
polygon can be rotated while stably supported by two
frictionless contacts. Rao et al. [15] give a planar
analysis for picking up polyhedral parts using 2 hardpoint contacts with a pivoting bearing, allowing the
part to pivot under gravity to rotate into a new
configuration. Blind et al. [4] present a “Pachinko”like device to orient polygonal parts in the vertical
plane. It consists of a grid of retractable pins that are
programmed to bring the part to a desired orientation
as the part falls.
Wallack and Canny [19] develop an algorithm
for planning planar grasp configurations using a
modular vise. Brown and Brost [6] turn the vise
upside down and invent a modular parallel-jaw
gripper. Each jaw consists of a regular grid of
precisely positioned holes. By properly locating
(inserting) four pins on each grid, the object can be
grasped reliably at the desired orientation.
Mathematical programming has been employed
to analyze grasping properties. Trinkle [16]
introduced a nonlinear programming (NLP) model to
predict instantaneous contact force, contact type, and
velocity of grasped parts. The model minimizes the
power generated by friction and gravity subject to
kinematic constraints. Trinkle solves the problem
using the primal-dual relationship. And shows that
the problem can be reduced to a LP problem if the
contacts are frictionless [17,18].
Our work is also motivated by recent research in
toppling manipulation. Lynch [11,12] derived
sufficient mechanical conditions for toppling parts
in term of constraints on contact friction, location,
and motion and we built on his analysis. Zhang and
Gupta [21] study how parts can be reoriented as they
fall down a series of steps. They derive the critical
transition height, which is the minimum step height
to topple a part from a given stable orientation to
another. Yu et al. [20] estimate the mass and COM of
objects by toppling. In [22], we introduced the
toppling graph to geometrically represent the
mechanics of toppling. We extended toppling
analysis to parallel-jaw grasping with point contacts
in [23]. In the current paper, we consider non-point
contacts and solve for optimal jaws based on
trapezoidal modules.
total length of linear contact area between
part and gripper at desired orientation
1. pushing is successful;
2. toppling is successful;
3. no jamming occurs;
4. no liftoff occurs;
5. no collisions on part motion trajectory;
6. final grasp is secure.
s. t.:
z A’
friction cone
friction cone
Figure 2 Notatio n.
As shown in Figure 2, the part sits on a flat
work-surface at a stable initial orientation. We define
the World frame, W, to be a Cartesian coordinate
system originating at pivot point P with X-axis on the
surface pointing right, Z-axis vertical to the surface
pointing up.
The COM is a distance ρ from the origin and
angle η from the +X direction at its initial
orientation. The pushing contact, A’, is a distance zA’
from the surface; the toppling contact, A, is a distance
zA from the surface.
Starting from the pivot, we consider each edge of
the part in counter-clockwise order, namely e1 , e2 , …,
en . The edge ei , with vertices vi at (xi , zi ) and v(i+1) at
(x(i+1), z(i+1)), is in direction ψi from the X-axis. The
surface friction cone half-angle is αs = tan -1 µs , and the
toppling (pushing) friction cone half-angle is αt =
tan-1 µt .
Let Ft , Fp , and Fs denote the contact force at A,
A’, and the surface, respectively, and ft , fp , and fs
denote the direction of the corresponding contact
force. We also denote the direction at the left edge of
We assume the part can be treated as a rigid extrusion
of a polygon; both the part and the jaws are rigid; part
geometry and location of the COM and the jaws are
known; part motion is sufficiently slow to apply
quasi-static analysis.
We consider the following design problem. The
input is the n-sided convex projection of an extruded
polygonal part, its COM, its initial and desired
orientations, ε vertex clearance radius, µt , µs : friction
coefficients between gripper-part and part-surface,
respectively. The output is a pair of gripper jaws,
each specified by a list of trapezoidal modules.
Since cos ω≥ 0 and µ s Mg ≥ 0 , then:
the toppling (/ pushing / surface) friction cone as ftl
(/fpl / fsl ) and the right edge as ftr (/fpr / fsr ). Let fg
denote the vertical line through the part’s COM. Let
a Ib denote the intersection of line a and line b, where
a and b can be anyone of ftl , fpl , fsl , ftr , fpr , fsr , fg ft , fp ,
and fs .
Let θ denote the rotation angle of the part;
initially θ =0 and finally θ =θd . Let θt denote the
rotation angle where the COM is right above P;
therefore, θt = π /2 -η. We partition edge ei by wi that
is the distance from vertex vi . Therefore, a point on ei
can be expressed as (xi + wi cos ψi , zi + wi sin ψi ).
We say an edge ek is visible if it can be seen from
+X direction; invisible, otherwise. Therefore, ek is
visible if 0 < ψk +θ < π; ek is invisible if π < ψk +θ <
2π. Notice that A can only make contact with visible
edges and A’ with invisible edges.
1 + µ s tan ω ≥ 0
± αt ) ≥ −
or ψ i ≥
⇒ tan(ψ i +
Therefore, given the pushing contact makes
contact with edge ei , to guarantee no jamming
equation #6 must be satisfied.
We develop a numerical algorithm to find the optimal
jaw design. The algorithm is based on an efficient
enumeration of feasible designs that exploits part
geometry and a graphical force analysis.
The feasible region for the optimization problem
is a curve plane defined by (zA , zA’, L), where L is a
function of (zA , zA’) and represents the total contact
length between the part and the gripper at the desired
final orientation. We approximate the maximal
(optimal) point of this plane by sampling the plane.
Figure 3 Condition to prevent toppling.
To prevent the part from toppling during the
pushing phase, we begin by constructing a Lynchlike triangle with vertices P1 , P2 , and P3 as shown in
Figure 4. P1 (xp1 , zp1 ) is g Isl , P2 (xp2 , zp2 ) is P, and P3 (xp3 ,
zp3 ) is g Isr . From these definitions we have:
xp1 = s,
zp1 = (x2 -s)/µs ,
xp2 = 0,
zp2 = x2 ,
# 10
# 11
xp3 = s,
# 12
zp3 = - (x2 -s)/µs ,
# 13
where s = ρ cosη.
To guarantee the pushing contact does not roll
the part clockwise, every force in the pushing friction
cone must not make a positive moment (i.e., the
contact force passes around the triangle in a
clockwise fashion.) respect to the P1 P2 P3 triangle
[14]. Therefore, fpl must pass below the highest
vertex of the triangle.
Let 1 wi denote the edge contact on ei where fpl
passes exactly through point P1 . We find 1 wi by
projecting a line from P1 at the angle of fpl until it
intersects the edge of the part:
1 w i = ( zi - (x2 -s)/µt - (xi - s) tan βil ) /(cos ψi tan βil # 14
sin ψi ),
where βil = ψi + π/2 + αt .
The contacts for fpl passing through P2 and P3 are
given by:
2 w i =( zi -x2 -xi tan βil ) /(cos ψi tan βil - sin ψi ), # 15
3 w i = ( zi + (x2 -s)/µt - (xi - s) tan βil ) /(cos ψi tan βil # 16
sin ψi ).
To guarantee the pushing contact on an edge ei
cannot roll the part clockwise, the following
inequality must be satisfied:
# 17
i zA’ < DHi = zi + w Hi sinψi ,
4.1 Location of Contacts
The contacts could switch edges as the part rolls.
Therefore, we have to check which edge the contacts
keep touch with at the different part rotation angle θ.
We first consider the location of A’. It keeps
touch with a invisible edge ek at θ if xk sinθ + zk cosθ
> zA’ > xk+1 sinθ + zk+1 cosθ.
Therefore, we can find the corresponding xA’ by:
z − x k sin θ − z k cosθ . # 1
x = x cosθ − z sin θ + A '
tan(ψ k + θ )
The location of the toppling contact (xA , zA ) can
be derived in a similar way [24].
4.2 Pushing Constraints
To guarantee the linear translation of the part on
the surface during pushing, neither toppling nor
jamming could occur.
To eliminate the pushing contact that may result
in jamming, Fp should overcome the friction between
the part and the surface. By static analysis,
ω= ψi + π/2 ± αt
Mg – Fp sin ω = N
Fp cos ω≥ µs N
Therefore, we have:
cosω + µ sin ω ≥
µ s Mg
ψi ≥ π − αt + αs
that is the
wHi = 1 i
π − αt + αs ≥ ψi
 2 wi
minimum of 1 wi , 2 wi, and 3 wi .
Similarly, to guarantee the pushing contact does
not roll the part counter-clockwise, the following
inequality must be satisfied:
# 18
i zA’ > DLi = zi + w Li sinψi ,
αt and
ψi ≥ 2π + αt − αs that is the maximum of
 2 wi
w =
4.5 Liftoff Constraints
As the part rotates, it may be lifted off from the
surface. We now find the condition that insures the
contact between the part and the surface.
In rolling phase, we only need to consider the
cases where: ψi > π + αs - αt if xA’ < 0; or ψi > π + αs
+ αt if xA’ > 0 because there is no toppling area
otherwise. In these cases, the part keeps contact with
the surface if and only if Ft makes negative moment
about the line segment between g Ip and p Is [24].
Therefore, the toppling constraints include the nonliftoff conditions when θ <θt .
When θ >θt , we assume the part is just about to
be lifted off from the surface if a jamming area exists.
Therefore, we have:
# 19
Fp cos αi + Ft cos αj = 0,
 3 wi
2 π + αt − αs ≥ ψi
1 w i , 2 w i, and 3 w i .
In summary, to guarantee linear translation of the
part without toppling and jamming, inequality #6,
#17, and #18 must be satisfied if the pushing contact
makes contact with edge ei .
where αi = β il
β ir
4.3 Toppling Constraints
During toppling, the part rotates about P. The
system of forces on the part: Fp , Ft , Fs , and the part’s
weight Mg, must generate a negative moment on the
part with respective to P. The contact forces lie on
the edge of the corresponding friction cones. Since P
slides to the right, the contact force from the surface
is on the direction of fsl . Ft is on the direction of ftl if
xA > 0; ftr if xA < 0. Fp is on the direction of fpr if xA’ >
0; fpl if xA’ < 0 [24].
Given the part stays on the surface and the height
of A’, the toppling function [23], Hj (θ), is the
minimum height at θ that A in contact with edge ej
must be in order to roll the part instantaneously,
where θ = 0 ~θd during toppling.
Consider an area in W defined by linear edges.
Let a toppling area denote an area such that toppling
is guaranteed if Ft makes a negative moment about
every point in the area. When θ <θt , there only exists
a toppling area. We derive the toppling function
depending on the direction of Fp , i.e., xA’ > 0 or xA’ <
0 (see [24] for details).
if x A' < 0 and αj = β jl if x A > 0 .
if x A' > 0
β jr if x A < 0
To guarantee non-liftoff, forces must satisfy:
Fp sin αi + Ft sin αj – G < 0,
# 20
Therefore, tan αi - tan αj < 0.
Notice that when both Fp and Ft point down, i.e.
π < αi < 2π and π < αj < 2π, the inequality is always
true; when both Fp and Ft point up, i.e. 2π < αi < 3π
and 0 < αj < π, the inequality is always false.
4.6 Toppling Graph
Our analysis involves the graphical construction
of a set of functions. All of these functions are
piecewise sinusoidal and dependent on θ. They map
from part orientation to height: S1 →ℜ
ℜ +, where S1 is
the set of planar orientations. The functions include
vertex functions, toppling functions, and jamming
functions. The toppling graph [22], which consists of
these functions, helps us to identify the range of the
contact permits toppling.
4.7 Trajectory Analysis
Once the part has been toppled to θd , the jaws
must stop the part’s rotation and securely hold it. We
want to maximize the contact between the part and
the jaws for the most robust performance.
During toppling, the part is constrained by two
contacts and the surface. We first consider the motion
trajectory of the visible edges. We take the toppling
contact as a fixed point; therefore, the part motion is
constrained by A and the surface (see Figure 4). The
motion trajectory of the invisible edges can be
obtained by the same method taking A’ as a fixed
point; therefore, the part motion is constrained by A’
and the surface.
The part performs both rotation and linear
translation during toppling. We decompose the part
motion into pure rotation and pure linear translation.
The part first rotates about P to semi-position, and
then translates to actual-position. Let (θ xj , θ zj ) and (θ
x’j , θ z’j ) denote the actual-position and the semiposition of vertex vj after the part is toppled by θ,
4.4 Jamming Constraints
The part continues to rotate after it has reached
θt , and jamming may occur due to friction.
Given the part stays on the surface and the height
of A’, the jamming function [23], Jj (θ), is the
minimum height at θ that A in contact with edge ej
must be in order to guarantee no jamming.
Let a jamming area denote an area such that no
jamming is guaranteed if Ft does not make a positive
moment about every point in the area. We consider
the jamming function by investigating the location of
A’. We divide quadrant II of W into four zones by fg
and fsl . Therefore, A’ must lie in one of these zones
during toppling.
We first check which zone A’ belongs to at θ.
Then we check if there exists a jamming area or a
toppling area. Finally, we derive the jamming
function if a jamming area exists and the toppling
function if a toppling area exists (see [24] for details).
Qjk(θ) =  x Q jk (θ, z A ) 
 Q (θ, z ) 
A 
 z jk
respectively. Let (d xj , d zj ) and (d x’j , d z’j ) denote the
actual-position and the semi-position of vertex vj after
the part is toppled to its desired orientation,
respectively. Let θxt and d xt denote the distance
between the actual-position and the semi-position of
any point after the part is toppled by θ and θd ,
No obstacle (any portion of the jaws) can block
the motion trajectory of the part during toppling. We
developed quasi-vertex functions to represent the
motion trajectory of vertices. Given zA , the quasivertex function Qjk(θ, zA ) indicates the location of vk
in Fj as the part rotates.
 ( θ x' k −d x' j +θ xt − d xt ) cos(ψ j −1 + θd ) +( θ z 'k − d z ' j ) sin(ψj −1 + θd ) 
−( θ x' k −d x' j +θ xt − d xt ) sin(ψj −1 + θd ) +( θ z 'k − d z ' j ) cos(ψj −1 + θd ) 
# 24
The line segment, connecting two corresponding
points of Qjk(θ, zA ) and Qj(k+1)(θ, zA ) at the same
rotation angle, represents the configuration of edge ek
in Fj . We denote it by the quasi-edge function Ejk(θ,
zA ). Figure 5 illustrates Q43 (θ, zA ) and Q44 (θ, zA ), and
E43 (θ, zA ) for the sample part given zA’ = 0.5cm and zA
= 3.65cm.
(dxj, dzj)
e j-1
(dxj-1, dzj-1)
Figure 5 Quasi-vertex functions (a) and quasi-edge functions (b).
We obtain an accessibility graph of Fj by
combining Qjk(θ, zA )’s for all the visible vertices vk’s
into one graph. We say a portion of an edge is an
accessible segment if the gripper can contact this
portion at the desired final orientation of the part
without blocking its motion trajectory. Therefore, the
portion of edge e( j-1) is accessible if there is no
intersection between the quasi-edge functions and
this portion of X-axis in the accessibility graph of Fj .
Figure 5 illustrates the accessibility graph of F4 based
on the sample part given zA’ = 0.5cm and zA =
Figure 4 Frame Fj notation.
We define a frame of reference Fj at the desired
orientation of the part. As shown in Figure 5, Fj
originates at vj . The Z-axis of Fj is the interior normal
of edge e( j-1), and the X-axis is on edge e( j-1) obeying
the right-hand rule. We obtain Qjk(θ, zA ) by
transforming the motion trajectory of vk in W to Fj .
We know that d xt = d xA - d x’A , where d xA = xA
since A is fixed. A makes contact with edge em if d z’m
< zA < d z’m+1 . Therefore, we can find d x’A , and then
we obtain:
( z A − d z ' m )(d x ' m +1 − d x ' m )
- d x’m . # 21
d xt = xA d z ' m+ 1 − d z ' m
So the transformation matrix Fj TW is given by:
TW = [WTFj ]-1 =
 cos(ψ j −1 +θ d )
 − sin(ψ j −1 + θ d )
0 sin(ψ j −1 + θ d ) −(d x' j + d xt ) cos(ψ j −1 + θ d )− d z ' j sin(ψ
0 cos(ψ j −1 + θ d ) + (d x' j + d xt ) sin(ψ j −1 +θ d )−d z ' j cos(ψ
j −1
j −1
 xk cosθ − z k sin θ+θ xt 
 x k sin θ + z k cosθ 
xt = xA -
+θ d ) 
+ θ d )
# 22
We next describe the motion trajectory of vertex
vk in W numerically. At each sampling θ, we compute
the position of vk:
VW = 
Figure 6 The accessibility graph of F4 .
# 23
Starting from any point of Qjk(θ, zA )’s in the
accessibility graph of Fj with z Qjk(θ, zA ) < 0, we
search the trajectory of ek and the neighbor edges
recursively to find all the intersections between the
corresponding quasi-edge functions and X-axis. We
obtain the accessible segment on edge e( j-1) by
eliminating those intersections. Repeating this
( z A −θ z ' l )(θ x' l + 1 −θ x ' l )
- θ x’l if θ z’l
θ z ' l +1 − θ z ' l
< zA < θ z’l+1 . Thus, quasi-vertex function Qjk(θ, zA )
for vertex vk can be shown to be:
analysis on all the edges of the part, we get the set of
accessible segments for the pair of (zA , zA’).
Additionally, we require the jaws to achieve a
form-closure grasp on the part. It is well known that
to check the form-closure grasps is equivalent to
solving a system of equations [18]. We find the
optimal design by ranking the form-closure check
survivors based upon the total length of contact.
Figure 7 demo nstrates the optimal design with
maximal L for the sample part where zA’ = 0.5cm and
zA = 22.6cm.
Figure 7 An example: the optimal jaw design.
Given the n-sided convex projection of an
extruded polygonal part, our algorithm takes O(n 2 ) to
find a pair of feasible (zA , zA’). For each (zA , zA’), we
apply O(n 3 ) time trajectory analysis to find the set of
the accessible segments. Therefore, the running time
is O(n 5 ).
We conducted a physical experiment using an
AdeptOne industrial robot and a parallel-jaw gripper
with jaws designed using the methodology described
in this paper. The part and the jaws were machined
from aluminum. The corresponding friction cone half
angles are αt = 5° ± 2°, and αp = 5° ± 2°.
As illustrated in Figure 1, the part begins at
stable orientation (a). Its desired orientation (d) for
assembly is at θ =25°. We choose A and A’ at zA =
5.5cm and zA’ = 0.4cm, respectively. The analysis
yields the optimal jaw design with L = 16.2cm.
Gripper jaw design has been ad-hoc and particularly
challenging when the part's natural resting pose
differs from the desired grip/insertion pose. In this
paper we describe a new approach to this problem
where the gripper jaws guide the part into alignment
and achieve the maximal linear contact with the part
at its desired orientation.
Our next objective is to validate performance of
the modular jaw designs in terms of reliability and
variation in shape, mass distribution, and friction. We
will then extend the approach to non-extruded 3D
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