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Dexterous robotic manipulation for automation of Chemistry labs


Project Description

This project will create dexterous manipulators to automate tasks in the next generation of chemical laboratories.
Significant advances in robotic manipulators have been made recently, with robotics arms and manipulators now being integrated on mobile platforms (e.g. Kuka https://www.kuka.com/en-gb/products/mobility/mobile-robots/kmr-iiwa) and capable of coordinating between them and with human operators (e.g. ABB Yumi co-bot https://new.abb.com/products/robotics/industrial-robots/irb-14000-yumi). However, dexterous manipulation of small, fragile, irregularly- shaped or uncertain objects – e.g. vials, pipettes and caps commonly found in a Chemistry lab – is still beyond the capability of commercially available platforms. Common factors preventing robots and co-bots to perform this task include: i) generic design of the gripper (not meeting requirements of automated Chemistry lab), ii) lack of adequate sensing and hence iii) poor reliability of control strategies.
This project will directly address these challenges by first distilling the requirements that dexterous manipulators for Chemistry lab automation need to satisfy in terms of mechanical design, sensing and closed-loop control. Novel designs for bespoke graspers and manipulators, embedded sensors and robust control strategies will be developed by the student to satisfy these requirements. The project will be linked to the Intelligent Automation theme of the recently established Leverhulme Centre for Functional Material Design at the University of Liverpool (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/leverhulme-research-centre/) and will take full advantage of the state-of-the-art facilities available in the Centre and in the Robotics @LERT lab in the School of Engineering. The final goal will be integrating the proposed graspers and/or manipulators in the robotics platforms currently used in the Leverhulme Centre to create the next generation of autonomous Chemistry labs. Dedicated demos will be developed during the project to showcase the capabilities of the proposed devices to potential partners (companies, other research groups etc.) and to prove that they enable successful completion of tasks that are well beyond the reach of what is achievable with current state-of-the-art robotic platforms.

Qualifications: Applications are welcomed from students with a 2:1 or higher masters degree or equivalent in an engineering discipline or computer science, particularly those with some of the skills directly relevant to the project outlined above. Genuine interest and ability in mechanical design and programming is essential. Previous experience on robotics, mechatronics and coding in Java or C/C++ would be desirable, though not essential.

Informal enquiries should be addressed to Dr Paolo Paoletti,

Please apply by completing the online postgraduate research application form here.
Please ensure you quote the following reference on your application LRC1911

Funding Notes

Depending on the successful applicant (EU or non-EU) this studentship would include a commitment to work up to 50 hours per academic year to help with teaching-related activities in modules currently taught in the Department, as assigned by the Head of Department or his representative. The award will pay full home/EU tuition fees and a maintenance grant (£15,007pa in 201920) for 3.5 years. Non-EU applicants may have to contribute to the higher non-EU overseas fee.

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