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Coffee-Filled Robot 'Hand' Can Pick Up Almost Anything

Robot GripperMost robot hands operate with claw-like pneumatic "fingers" that mimic human hands. But a new type of gripper -- developed by researchers from the University of Chicago, Cornell and the iRobot Corp (with funding from DARPA) -- eschews the traditional "hand" design for an amorphous gripper made out of a balloon, some coffee grounds and a vacuum. The grounds-filled gripper starts out soft and malleable, allowing it to envelop items, regardless of shape or size (within reason). Then the vacuum pump is turned on, sucking air out of the bag and locking the coffee bits in a rigid shape. [Ed. note: But can it grip a ball?]

The current model (demoed in the video after the break) is roughly the size of a golf ball, and can pick up smaller items, ranging from M&Ms to glasses of water. But what excites researchers, like the University of Chicago's Eric Brown, is that the design can easily be scaled up to larger sizes. "You could potentially lift up a car with something like this if you made a big enough gripper," he told Live Science. In addition to a being more versatile than your standard robot claw, this new style of gripper has fewer moving parts, making it easier to build and control, and leaving less room for parts to fail. The new design could find its way into industrial machines, prosthetic limbs and bomb squad 'bots in the very near future.

Robot Gripper

Tags: cornell, darpa, irobot, RobotHand, robots, science, top, UniversityOfChicago