Nut Unfastening by Robotic Surface Exploration

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In this paper, we present a novel concept and primary investigations regarding automated unfastening of hexagonal nuts by means of surface exploration with a compliant robot. In contrast to the conventional industrial approaches that rely on custom-designed motorised tools and mechanical tool changers, we propose to use robot fingers to position, grasp and unfasten unknown random-sized hexagonal nuts, which are arbitrarily positioned in the robot’s task space. Inspired by how visually impaired people handle unknown objects, in this work, we use information observed from surface exploration to devise the unfastening strategy. It combines torque monitoring with active compliance for the robot fingers to smoothly explore the object’s surface. We implement a shape estimation technique combining scaled iterative closest point and hypotrochoid approximation to estimate the location as well as contour profile of the hexagonal nut so as to accurately position the gripper fingers. We demonstrate this work in the context of dismantling an electrically driven vehicle battery pack. The experiments are conducted using a seven degrees of freedom (DoF)–compliant robot fitted with a two-finger gripper to unfasten four different sized randomly positioned hexagonal nuts. The obtained results suggest an overall exploration and unfastening success rate of 95% over an average of ten trials for each nut.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107
Number of pages17
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 14 Sept 2021


  • surface exploration
  • tactile perception
  • unfastening
  • end effectors
  • grasping


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