In Focus - Issue 29 (Spring 2018)

I have loved robots since I was a child and o en dreamed of building one myself. This aspiration made me choose Mechanical Engineering at HKUST, rst as an undergraduate, now as a research student. When I was growing up, my father’s business took him – and me – around the world, which means I am always open to new adventures. In Year of my bachelor degree, I met Dr Feng Ni, then a PhD student. He introduced me to “so ” robots, machines made of silicone rubber and plastics. This concept immediately fascinated me as I had previously only imagined robots to be metallic, as in Star Wars. First, I worked with Dr Ni and an MPhil student to develop and re ne a “so nger” actuator – a component responsible for moving or controlling a mechanism. Following this, I joined the Smart So End E ector team, a group of nal year undergraduate mechanical engineering students who wanted to apply robotics knowledge to solve real-life problems. Our aim was to leverage the so nger actuator, add a smart close loop control to broaden its potential applications, and develop a so robotic gripper that could grasp a variety of objects. As the so robotics eld is only just emerging, we had to do most of the background research ourselves as information wasn’t yet available in textbooks. Such self-study, teamwork, and the intensive discussions required to develop the gripper proved brilliant training. A er several generations of experiments using pressure and flex sensors, under the guidance of Profs Lilong Cai and Michael Wang, we succeeded in creating a gripper capable of grasping objects of di erent shape, sizes and texture. Even a foodstu as delicate as tofu! My teammates (Chenxi Feng, Chunli Jiang, Zihang Zhang, Peng Zhou) and I were all very proud to win the President’s Cup and the Gold Award in the ASM Technology Award for our innovation. During development, we also sought to raise interest among the business sector and even went to the CES consumer electronics show in Las Vegas. We believe that in the future this smart e ector could be highly useful in caring for the elderly and children, and industries such as food packaging and automated farming. The project has already fundamentally changed our own lives. Alexander Yu Tse MPhil in Mechanical Engineering BEng in Mechanical Engineering 22 IN FOCUS Young Engineers Alexander Tse and the smart soft robotic gripper invented by his undergraduate nal year project team.