An Introduction to Robotic Manipulators

Image Credit: Ociacia/

Image Credits: Ociacia/

Robotic manipulators are devices that are used in this industry to manipulate articles or materials that are located in inaccessible locations. The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) defines a robotic manipulator as a machine in which the grasping or moving mechanism in several degrees of freedom is achieved by a series of jointed or sliding segments.

A robotic manipulator may be controlled by a remote operator or a programmable electronic controller. Examples of robotic manipulators include Canadarm, Terabot-S and da-Vinci surgical systems.

How Do Robotic Manipulators Work?

To analyze the kinematics of the manipulator, the segments are usually considered to be rigid in nature. Each rigid segment is considered an orthonormal co-ordinate frame. Additionally, the components or segments of a manipulator are connected through the use of different types of kinematic joints such as revolute, sliders, screw, spherical, helical or planars. Some of these joints receive input from actuators allow for the system’s movement. Manipulators may be designed for a slow system when rigid dynamics are employed, or for a fast system when flexible link dynamics are utilized.

Applications of Robotic Manipulators

Robotic manipulators typically find applications in the following:

  • Handling of radioactive and biohazardous materials
  • Robot-assisted medical surgeries
  • Ocean engineering systems

Advances in Robotic Manipulators

As research and development continues to improve the technology behind robotic manipulators, various industries have investigated ways in which these complex devices can improve their production rates. For example, in July of 2018, Amazon won their 27-page patent on robotic arms that is capable of tossing objects into chutes or bins within a warehouse2. Through the use of various sensors, this robotic arm will be capable of identifying objects to determine the best grabbing and tossing mechanism that will safely and accurately toss objects into bins.

Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing (ARM), a pioneer in improving the technology of the robotics industry, has recently launched four new research and development programs that they expect will revolutionize the role of robotics in composites manufacturing, automotive assembly lines, sanding and finishing technologies and wire harness assembly processes. In regard to composites manufacturing, lead investigators Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute expects this project to dramatically improve the capabilities of human operators by improving robotics technologies that carefully integrate the precise manipulation of the robotic manipulators and the ability of the operator to make important decisions throughout assembly procedures.

Furthermore, in regard to the automotive assembly project, the lead researchers at Clemson University are hopeful that this research project will improve the ability of the smart companion robot (SCR) to accurately deliver parts and tools to ultimately eliminate errors in the assembly process3. Additionally, the SCR in this specific project will ease the physical burden associated with transporting medium-to-heavy parts, ultimately reducing worker fatigue and potential injury rates.


  1. Singularities of Robotic Manipulators – Penn State University
  2. “Heads up! Amazon wins a patent for robotic arms that toss warehouse items” – GeekWire
  3. “New R&D Projects to Create Advanced Robotics” – Assembly

This article was updated on the 21st September, 2018.

Alexander Chilton

Written by

Alexander Chilton

Alexander has a BSc in Physics from the University of Sheffield. After graduating, he spent two years working in Sheffield for a large UK-based law firm, before relocating back to the North West and joining the editorial team at AZoNetwork. Alexander is particularly interested in the history and philosophy of science, as well as science communication. Outside of work, Alexander can often be found at gigs, record shopping or watching Crewe Alexandra trying to avoid relegation to League Two.


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