Over the years, researchers have designed several different gripping end effectors for robotic arms. These grippers either worked with mechanical hands, jaws, claws or suction. However, one group of researchers has theorized that the best gripper may not be any of those at all.
The answer may be so simple it may seem silly – coffee grounds in a latex balloon.
Yes, that’s right – with all the mechanisms available to manipulate, assemble, lift, haul and palletize items, it is this simple end effector that may change the whole game.
Researchers at Cornell University designed this new gripper that they dubbed the “universal gripper.” According to an article by Rebecca Boyle, this universal gripper takes advantage of a physical phenomenon called jamming transition.
Her example of this matter transition uses coffee grounds. When coffee grounds are vacuum sealed, they seem to be in a solid state, but when you open that seal, they start to move more like a liquid. This universal gripper builds on that idea of matter transition.
The balloon filled with coffee grounds is attached to a robotic arm and lowered to fluidly conform around the item it is going to lift. Then, all the air is sucked out of the balloon and the coffee grounds become a solid, holding the item in place. When the vacuum stops, the coffee grounds in the balloon revert back to their liquid-like form.
While this may be a new wave for gripping end effectors, possibly using other types of durable latex or plastics and lower cost items like sand, that work similarly to coffee, it remains to be seen if this universal gripper will ever outlive the robotic grippers already in service, especially those fashioned to look so much like that which we use every day – our own hands.
RobotWorx, a certified integrator for several end effector retailers, has several robot grippers available for purchase and customization. We help our customers match the right end effectors to the right robots and systems.