robot gripper made from coffee grounds and balloon
oct 27, 2010
robot gripper made from coffee grounds and balloon

all images by john amend, cornell university

researchers at the cornell computation synthesis laboratory (CCSL) have developed a robot ‘hand’
made simply from coffee grounds and a balloon – and it grips just about anything.

project summary from the CCSL:

gripping and holding of objects are key tasks for robotic manipulators. the development of
universal grippers able to pick up unfamiliar objects of widely varying shape and surface
properties remains, however, challenging. most current designs are based on the multifingered hand,
but this approach introduces hardware and software complexities. these include large numbers of
controllable joints, the need for force sensing if objects are to be handled securely without crushing them,
and the computational overhead to decide how much stress each finger should apply and where.
here we demonstrate a completely different approach to a universal gripper. individual fingers are
replaced by a single mass of granular material that, when pressed onto a target object, flows around it
and conforms to its shape. upon application of a vacuum the granular material contracts and hardens
quickly to pinch and hold the object without requiring sensory feedback. we find that volume changes
of less than 0.5% suffice to grip objects reliably and hold them with forces exceeding many times their weight.
we show that the operating principle is the ability of granular materials to transition between an unjammed,
deformable state and a jammed state with solid-like rigidity. we delineate three separate mechanisms,
friction, suction, and interlocking, that contribute to the gripping force. using a simple model we relate
each of them to the mechanical strength of the jammed state. this opens up new possibilities for the
design of simple, yet highly adaptive systems that excel at fast gripping of complex objects

the robot’s hand has the capabilities of holding a pen and having control over it

demonstrating suction

the gripper also has the capability of picking up small objects

the gripper is made from coffee grounds and a balloon

via fastcodesign

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