Shape-shifting robot gripper can pick up objects of different shapes

Shape-shifting robot gripper can pick up objects of different shapes

Researchers at the University of Chicago, Cornell University in New York and iRobot Corp said on Monday that a new shape-shifting technology may soon enable robots pick up objects of different shapes.

According to the research reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, a new kind of robotic gripping mechanism – the gripper – slips around hard objects; subsequently contracting and stiffening when a vacuum is applied. Basically a latex balloon filled with ground coffee or grain material, the gripper hardens when air is sucked out.

The gripper’s mechanism works in such a way that once the soft and supple device is in position to pick up an object, an attached vacuum pump sucks all the air from the bag, and solidifies its grip to allow a user to pickup the object. Upon allowing the air to flow back into the bag, the gripper softens and releases the object.

To find the right material for the gripper, the researchers experimented with several things, including rice, couscous, and even ground-up tires. However, ground coffee beans provided the precise combination of light weight as well as good interlocking ability.

Noting that “ground coffee grains are like lots of small gears,” study co-author Hod Lipson, a mechanical engineer at the University of Chicago, said: “When they are not pressed together, they can roll over each other and flow. When they are pressed together just a little bit, the teeth interlock, and they become solid.”


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