Compact, Long-Reach Robotic Arm

William R. Doggett, John T. Dorsey, George G. Ganoe, Thomas C. Jones, and Cole K. Corbin, Langley Research Center (Hampton, VA); Bruce D. King, Lockheed Martin (Bethesda, MD); and Charles D. Mercer, Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies (New York, NY)

“Winning this award is an honor for our team! Developing the Tendon-Actuated Lightweight In-Space MANipulator (TALISMAN) technology was a team effort that sprang from the desire to continue enabling long-reach robots to operate in the space environment. This scalable robotic architecture and design packages into a more compact volume. This award and subsequent national recognition are crucial to introducing our technology to a wide audience.”
Langley’s Tendon-Actuated Lightweight In-Space MANipulator (TALISMAN) technology is a robotic arm with lightweight joints that provide a wide range of motion. The design provides users with a long reach and numerous degrees of freedom. The arm, ideal for use in aquatic environments or for manipulation of light terrestrial loads, consists of articulating booms connected by antagonistic cable tension elements. The arm elements are structurally efficient and lightweight, and support compact packaging.

The inherent mechanical advantage provided by the tendon articulation allows the use of small, efficient motor systems. The manipulator can be scaled over a large range — from 10 m (load-bearing arm) to over 1000 m (submersible or float-supported arm). Current efforts are focusing on a 15-m prototype and a 300-m subsystem to test the unique robotic architecture.

The lightweight and hyperdextrous nature of the robotic arm is enabled by its tendon-articulated joints. Manipulator joints are actuated by capstans or winches located along the boom. The arm joints have very high structural efficiency, and significantly reduce manipulator mass while achieving a high level of joint stiffness. To further reduce weight while maintaining strength, stiff truss structures replace tubular links or booms between joints.

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An algorithm is used to scale the arm based on tip load, reach, and tip deflection inputs for any given application. The design can be extended by the addition of articulating joints and degrees of freedom for improved arm dexterity.

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Honorable Mentions

High-Performance Shutter Valve

Kyle Daniels, Clarke Industrial Engineering, North Kingstown, RI

The Shutter Valve is a quarter-turn, compact, fully piggable high-performance valve based on a simple, interlocking, three-petal design that enables it to seal at very high pressures. It can be disassembled by a trained technician for field maintenance or repairs, and works with all standard size flanges and pipes. Users can maintain the same standard face-to-face dimensions of their existing valves (plug-and-play). With its design based on a mechanical iris, the valve controls flow by moving the petals into any position needed. Flow can be restricted from a fine mist all the way to a full stream like a fire hose, and everything in between. It offers the sealing capability of a ball valve with the precise flow control of a control valve, and compact size of a butterfly valve.

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Low-Cost 3D-Printed Linear Motion System

Scott Winroth, MakerStrong, Ayer, MA

GearRail™ is a low-cost, easy-to-assemble linear motion system that is constructed from simple 3D-printed parts and common off-the-shelf hardware components. The system consists of two main assemblies: the stationary rail assembly and the mobile carriage assembly. Precise linear motion is achieved by controlling the rotation of a drive gear mounted to a motor on the carriage assembly. The drive gear engages the threads of the stationary rod and converts the rotary motion of the motor into linear motion along the rod axis — similar to the operation of a rack and pinion. The rail assembly is constructed from 3D-printed rod connectors and standard threaded rods. 3D-printed roller gears are attached to the carriage plate and facilitate smooth linear motion.

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