A team of clever robotics-minded folks from Cornell University and the University of Chicago have demonstrated a truly novel way for robots to interact with the world around them. Their “Positive Pressure Universal Gripper” can pick up and toss an object of just about any shape without the need for pesky and complex hands. Instead, their gripper uses a robotic arm with — no kidding — a balloon.
The robotic arm is able to pick up objects thanks to a piece of established, and simple, technology called “jamming.” Instead of a hand or a suction cup, the arm has a latex balloon filled with sand or some other granular substance. It places this over the object to be picked up, and the pumps all the air out of the balloon. In the confined space, the granules jam together and grip objects quite tightly.
The twist from the Cornell/Chicago team was to add “positive pressure” into the mix. This simply means that in addition to deflating the balloon, their robot can quickly re-inflate the balloon. Do this with enough force and some computer-controlled aim, and you can toss objects pretty far with remarkable accuracy.
Though impressive, the setup isn’t quite accurate enough for highly precise work, but it is easy and decidedly low tech. It’s also pretty damn fun to watch to, which you can do in the video below.
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