Getting a grip: load cells and robotics in 2023

Published On: June 19 2023

Load cells have always been used in the development of robotic equipment, and we’ve written about lots of different robotic projects in the past. Here’s a new view on automotive robots, how to make a robot dog walk better, and why missing screws in flat pack units may become a thing of the past.


Remember this?

Industrial robots are nothing new. If you’re of a certain age you’ll remember the Fiat Strada “Handbuilt by Robots” advert from 1979.


In the 40+ years since that video, industrial robots have progressed to become a ‘co-worker’ with humans. Unlike the Fiat robots who performed a specific task on an automotive production line, modern collaborative robots are designed to be adaptive, able to change location and tasks as required.


Getting a grip: industrial robots and tactile sensors

One of the greatest challenge for any collaborative robot is “grip”. Whether picking fruit or packing delicate items in a warehouse, a combination of sensitive load cells, big data, rapid processing and AI have enabled several generations of robots to develop the delicate levels of ‘feel’ required.

As one systems company explains:

“An example is the automotive manufacturing process of inserting pistons into an engine. Currently, robotic vision systems are not capable of providing the precision needed for these jobs. Instead, force-sensing devices find the precise tool center point for use in inserting the piston with extreme accuracy … These “touch and feel” capabilities are exciting advancements.”


Where’s that missing screw?

We’ve all done it, dropped that teeny tiny (and usually vital) screw onto the floor and spend 30 minutes searching for it on our hands and knees. Load cells are now so accurate that they can detect the difference in weight in a flat pack self assembly item if just a single screw is missing.

This enables load cells to ‘work’ collaboratively with robots to sort the problem:

“(The weighing) was part of an automated quality check during transfer from a production line to fulfilment, handled at speed by a robot arm with a vacuum controlled grip mechanism. The load cells needed to cope with a lot of inertia and allow the routing of air lines through the centre of the load cell bodies without adversely effecting their structural strength.”


Just walking the dog

Over the years, we’ve been watching self-confessed robot geek James Bruton develop OpenDog, a project to develop a walking dog robot. One of the biggest issues has been that the OpenDog legs are rigid. James used load cells to measure the load on the robotic legs to attempt to get the the legs to “React in a more forgiving way so that I can make it more dynamic”. Like all his developments, James explains all in an engaging video of the modifications her made, and the results:


Other favourite robots and load stories

A gentle touch: load cells in medical devices

How load cells have been playing a central role in the research and development of touch-sensitive procedures and our understanding of touch itself.

Amphibian robots and adaptive morphogenesis

The development of a robot that, like a turtle, could swim and move on land too, with multi-axis load cells playing a key role in the development and testing.

A more natural gait: load cells in intelligent artificial limbs

As our article explains, A team from the IRSO (Indian Space Research Organisation) have developed a commercially viable intelligent artificial limb for above the knee amputees.

The future of robot prosthetics

Our blog from 2021 into the evolution of prosthetics as powered, robotic limbs that interact with the wearer’s own body.


Need load cells for your next robotic project?

Contact us to discuss your requirements.