The human hand is an amazing machine that can pick up, move and place objects easily, but for a robot, this “gripping” mechanism is a vexing challenge. Opting for simple elegance, researchers from Cornell, the University of Chicago and iRobot Corp. have created a versatile gripper using everyday ground coffee and a latex party balloon, bypassing traditional designs based on the human hand and fingers.
They call it a universal gripper, as it conforms to the object it’s grabbing, rather than being designed for particular objects, said Hod Lipson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and computer science.
The ground coffee grains are like lots of small gears,” Lipson 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.” (via Cornell Chronicle: Universal robotic gripper)