SoftEnable's main goal is to make fundamental advances in aiding workers in hazardous manipulation tasks by enabling collaborative robots to reliably perform some of the key soft object manipulation primitives required for handling fresh fish and meat.
Fresh food processing is a labour intensive task requiring workers to operate in hazardous environments such as cold rooms while handling delicate produce. Industry KPIs however include reducing human exposure to these harsh conditions and avoiding injury while maintaining high levels of productivity and employee satisfaction. These challenges are in principle well-suited for robotics, but the handling of delicate items such as meat and fish requires new types of robotic manipulation primitives to secure the manipulated object safely. SoftEnable proposes a new framework for manipulation actions involving deformable delicate objects based on the notion of soft fixture-enabled manipulation primitives. While fixtures by means of robotic grasps or specifically designed workpiece fixtures are routinely applied in industrial robotics applications involving rigid objects such as metal parts, there is a need to generalize these robotic methods to materials and situations that require the robust manipulation of soft or fragile items. SoftEnable will extend existing robotic grasping and manipulation techniques based on a novel soft fixture-based framework that generalize the notion of caging grasps together with the co-development of a soft fixture-optimized robotic manipulator and tooling for this purpose. Besides the fresh food handling use case, SoftEnable will focus on the healthcare sector where the project will demonstrate how soft fixtures can be utilized by a robotic system assisting health care workers by reducing stress and risk exposure during the handling, preparation, dressing, undressing and safe disposal of personal protective equipment (PPE).