Lifting up a needle or a book may seem easy to human hands but to a robot it can be quite challenging. This is the challenge that a new robotic gripper hopes to address with new shape shifting technology.
The gripper is a bag filled with coffee beans of any other grain. The soft ball conforms to any object and once the gripper is in place a vacuum pumps out the air from the bag making it solid and allowing the gripper to pick up the object. To release the object air is allowed to flow back in to the bag.
Robotic Gripper. image Credit: John Amend, Cornell University
Hod Lipson is a mechanical engineer at the University of Chicago who is the co author of the study. He said that the grains act like lots of small gears which can flow over each other when not pressed together. When pressed together the teeth interlock and they become solid.
The research on the right material for the gripper is still under debate in the collaboration between the groups of Lipson, Heinrich Jaeger at the University of Chicago, and Chris Jones at iRobot Corp.