Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis (Ph.D.)


Department of Computer Science

First Advisor

Devin Balkcom


Flexible objects are a challenge to manipulate. Their motions are hard to predict, and the high number of degrees of freedom makes sensing, control, and planning difficult. Additionally, they have more complex friction and contact issues than rigid bodies, and they may stretch and compress. In this thesis, I explore two major types of flexible materials: cloth and string. For rigid bodies, one of the most basic problems in manipulation is the development of immobilizing grasps. The same problem exists for flexible objects. I have shown that a simple polygonal piece of cloth can be fully immobilized by grasping all convex vertices and no more than one third of the concave vertices. I also explored simple manipulation methods that make use of gravity to reduce the number of fingers necessary for grasping. I have built a system for folding a T-shirt using a 4 DOF arm and a fixed-length iron bar which simulates two fingers. The main goal with string manipulation has been to tie knots without the use of any sensing. I have developed single-piece fixtures capable of tying knots in fishing line, solder, and wire, along with a more complex track-based system for autonomously tying a knot in steel wire. I have also developed a series of different fixtures that use compressed air to tie knots in string. Additionally, I have designed four-piece fixtures, which demonstrate a way to fully enclose a knot during the insertion process, while guaranteeing that extraction will always succeed.


Originally posted in the Dartmouth College Computer Science Technical Report Series, number TR2010-663.