Elephant's trunk robot: an extremely versatile under-actuated continuum robot driven by a single motor

Yuwang Liu, Zhuang Ge, Shangkui Yang, Ian D. Walker, Zhaojie Ju

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Continuous-bodied “trunk and tentacle” robots have increased self-adaptability and obstacle avoidance capabilities, compared with traditional, discrete-jointed, robots with large rigid links. In particular, continuous-bodied robots have obvious advantages in grasping objects across a wide range of external dimensions. Not only can they grasp objects using end effectors like traditional robots, but their bodies can also be regarded as a gripping device, and large objects with respect to the robot’s scale can be captured by the entire structure of the robots themselves. Existing trunk-like robots have distributed multi-drive actuation, and are often manufactured using soft materials, which leads to a complex actuator system that also limits their potential applications in dangerous and extreme environments. This paper introduces a new type of elephant's trunk robot with very few driving constraints. The robot consists of a series of novel under-actuated linkage units. With a single motor drive, the robot can achieve stable grasping of objects of different shapes and sizes. The proposed robot simplifies the requirements of the sensing and control systems during the operation process, and has the advantage of accomplishing the capture task without determining the exact shape and position of the target object. It is especially suitable for operations such as non-cooperative target capture in extremely dangerous environments, including those in outer space. Based on theoretical analysis and model design, a trunk robot prototype was developed, and a comprehensive experimental study of the bending/extension and grasping operation functions was conducted to verify the validity of the proposed robot design.
Original languageEnglish
Article number051008
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Mechatronics and Robotics
Issue number5
Early online date12 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2019


  • robots
  • motors
  • engines
  • grasping
  • shapes
  • design
  • control systems
  • dimensions
  • engineering prototypes
  • linkages


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