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 research is a collaboration between the groups of Lipson, Heinrich Jaeger at the University of Chicago, and Chris Jones at iRobot Corp. It is published today (Oct. 25) online in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"This is one of the closest things we've ever done that could be on the market tomorrow," Lipson said. He noted that the universality of the gripper makes future applications seemingly limitless, from the military using it to dismantle explosive devises or to move potentially dangerous objects, robotic arms in factories, on the feet of a robot that could walk on walls, or on prosthetic limbs.
Here's how it works: An everyday party balloon filled with ground coffee – any variety will do – is attached to a robotic arm. The coffee-filled balloon presses down and deforms around the desired object, and then a vacuum sucks the air out of the balloon, solidifying its grip. When the vacuum is released, the balloon becomes soft again, and the gripper lets go.
Jaeger said coffee is an example of a particulate material, which is characterized by large aggregates of individually solid particles. Particulate materials have a so-called jamming transition, which turns their behavior from fluid-like to solid-like when the particles can no longer slide past each other.
This phenomenon is familiar to coffee drinkers familiar with vacuum-packed coffee, which is hard as a brick until the package is unsealed.
"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."
Jaeger explains that the concept of a "jamming transition" provides a unified framework for understanding and predicting behavior in a wide range of disordered, amorphous materials. All of these materials can be driven into a 'glassy' state where they respond like a solid yet structurally resemble a liquid, and this includes many liquids, colloids, emulsions or foams, as well as particulate matter consisting of macroscopic grains.
"What is particularly neat with the gripper is that here we have a case where a new concept in basic science provided a fresh perspective in a very different area – robotics – and then opened the door to applications none of us had originally thought about," Jaeger said.
Eric Brown, a postdoctoral researcher, and Nick Rodenberg, a physics undergraduate, worked with Jaeger on characterizing the basic mechanisms that enable the gripping action. Prototypes of the gripper were built and tested by Lipson and Cornell graduate student John Amend as well as at iRobot.
As for the right particulate material, anything that can jam will do in principle, and early prototypes involved rice, couscous and even ground- up tires. They settled on coffee because it's light but also jams well, Amend said. Sand did better on jamming but was prohibitively heavy. What sets the jamming-based gripper apart is its good performance with almost any object, including a raw egg or a coin – both notoriously difficult for traditional robotic grippers.
The project was supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Blaine Friedlander | EurekAlert!
New dental implant with built-in reservoir reduces risk of infections
18.01.2017 | KU Leuven
Many muons: Imaging the underground with help from the cosmos
19.12.2016 | DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...
Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
19.01.2017 | Event News
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
19.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
19.01.2017 | Life Sciences
19.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy