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Dexterous Manipulation for Part Grasping and Assembly


This project will investigate new measurement science to gauge the operational characteristics of manipulation at both the macro and micro scales.  Emerging manipulation technologies have low throughput and/or limited controllability and lack the measurement tools needed to achieve high quality production.  Industrial robot systems currently have far less dexterity than humans. This deficiency has led to the industry practice of custom-building robot systems with custom end-effectors and fixturing for each task, which greatly increases product changeover time and cost.  Next-generation robot systems will be more flexible with multiple degree of freedom “robotic hands” and will provide levels of versatility and control closer to that of a human.  This should enable much more rapid retasking.  Micro manipulation is an emerging field in the manufacture of MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) where complex 3D micro components are assembled to construct a device.



To investigate new measurement science for assessing part grasping and assembly techniques for next generation macro- and micro-scale manufacturing systems by 2014.

What is the new technical idea?

The new technical idea is to provide developers and users of emerging robotic systems with measurement tools and associated test methodologies to measure grasping and assembly characteristics as follows:

  1. Develop measurement science to support next-generation robots that implement 1) part grasping and manipulation, where advanced robotic arms, coupled with multi-fingered robotic hands, closely mimicking human dexterity, must fully constrain a part for maximum stability and ease of manipulation without the aid of custom fixturing; and 2) assembly operations, where parts are oriented, aligned, inserted and fastened to result in a final product.  This project will develop a baseline set of graspable test artifacts (prismatic, cylindrical, spherical) to define metrics for grasp performance, and assembly force control artifacts to support metrics for assembly performance (settle stability, obstruction stability, and surface cohesion).  In addition, we will work closely with industry to define new advanced grasping and assembly tasks for human/robot collaborative operations as robot technologies advance.
  2. Develop measurement science to support micro manipulation systems for the manufacture of MicroElectroMechanical Systems (MEMS) where complex 3D components ranging in size from 1-100 microns are assembled to construct sub-millimeter sized devices.  The work will focus on multi-probe manipulation of planar test artifacts and will work with industry to define metrics and artifacts for complex 3D micro components.
What is the research plan?

The project will develop a preliminary set of performance metrics and associated test methods for part grasping and force based assembly and validate them using the advanced robot capabilities of the Program’s testbed.  In addition, this project will develop techniques for the evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of micro part grasping, manipulation, and assembly control methods using the micro-manipulation testbed currently under development.

The plan addresses the project goals through the following components: 

  1. Formal interaction with industry on the current state and future direction of manipulation technologies for manipulation, autonomous assembly, and collaborative applications, working to establish new measurement capabilities in the area of dexterous manipulation.
  2. Development of measurement science including metrics, test methods and part artifacts for assessing the capabilities of emerging advanced robotic hands taking into account both hand kinematics and grasp algorithms using the grasp capabilities of a three-fingered, seven degree-of-freedom robotic hand.
  3. Development of measurement science including metrics and test methods for force based robotic operations using a base-line set of force control and assembly tasks.
  4. Continued development of an advanced micro manipulation and assembly testbed.
  5. Development of metrology and calibration science for gripping, manipulation and assembly of complex micro scale devices
Major Accomplishments

Recent Results: 


  1. Grant to the university of California, Merced in the area of multi-fingered robotic hand grasping. An output of this grant will be a detailed assessment of the state-of-the-art in grasping to be published as a journal article.
  2. Procurement of the Schunk Dexterous Hand (SDH), three-fingered, seven degree-of-freedom robotic hand.
  3. Procurement: KUKA Light Weight Robot (LWR), and advanced seven degree-of-freedom highly dexterous robot arm with advanced force control features.
  4. Established a collaboration (CRADA) with Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) on the mathematical modeling and control of MEMS micro mechanisms manipulators. RPI will also collaborate on the development of the micro-manipulation testbed.
  5. Established a collaboration with Ohio State University on the Kinematic Modeling and Calibration of the NIST Hexapod Nanopositioner manipulator
  6. Established a collaboration with the University of Maryland Baltimore County (UMBC) on the Dynamics and Control of the NIST Hexapod Nanopositioner manipulator


  1. Acta Technology Inc., Boulder, Co, licensed NIST’s planar nanopositioner patent and a CRADA was established for information exchange toward commercialization of NIST planar nanopositioning devices.
  2. Patent application  NIST/ACTA (ACTA funded)
  3. Patent application NIST/Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (NIST funded)
  4. Nick Dagalakis elected member of the ASME Research Committee on Nanomanufacturing Technology
  5. Advised the FANUC Robotics America Corporation on robot rigidity arm modeling and adjustment techniques
Standards and Codes:

Project members are working with the Robotics Industries Association (RIA) to identify new robot performance standards activities that will address next-generation robotics and the Optoelectronics and Micro/Nano manufacturing industry.  The standards below have been identified as standards in need of revision.  All of these standards were previously developed with technical contributions from NIST staff

  • ISO 9283-1998 Manipulating industrial robots – Performance criteria and related test methods
  • ISO 8373-1994 Manipulating industrial robots – Vocabulary
  • RIA/ANSI R15.05, parts 1 to 3 (the U.S. counterparts to ISO 9283).
Dexterous Manipulation
The NIST Dexterous Manipulation Testbed with a highly dexterous robot and a three fingered robotic hand investigates the operational characteristics of manipulation for manufacturing tasks.

Start Date:

October 1, 2011

Lead Organizational Unit:


General Information:

Joe Falco, Project Leader

301 975 3455 Telephone
301 990 9688 Fax

100 Bureau Drive, M/S 8230
Gaithersburg, MD 20899