Dexterous Manipulation of Heavy Objects with Cranes

Corresponding Author: Cormac O’Neill (croneill at

Traditional robot manipulators are ill-suited for the automation of assembly and manufacturing tasks that require the manipulation of especially large and heavy payloads. With labor shortages impacting manufacturing industries around the world, our research seeks to develop approaches that would allow for the automation of heavy industry’s manipulator of choice: the gantry crane.

Gantry cranes are a cost effective way to move heavy objects across a large workspace, when compared to more traditional rigid-link robot manipulators. However, the unidirectional load-bearing capacity of cables results in cranes being severely underactuated. Our work is focused on developing novel mechanical and controller designs that allow for underactuated cable systems – such as cranes – to perform dexterous manipulation tasks. Of particular interest in prior work has been how cranes can exploit contact between their payload and the environment in order to expand their manipulation capabilities.


  1. C. O’Neill and H. H. Asada, “Safe Tumbling of Heavy Objects Using a Two-Cable Crane,” in IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, vol. 6, no. 2, pp. 1082-1089, April 2021, doi: 10.1109/LRA.2021.3056029. The contents of this paper were also selected by the ICRA 2020 Program Committee for presentation at the conference.