Coffee+Balloon>Expensive Robot Hands

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)  is a great site for sciencey folks to follow. Pretty useful news, and sometimes really interesting stuff. Like this recent article I found.

You know how if you buy a bag of coffee, the vacuum-sealed bag is hard as a rock? Know also how, if you break the seal, it becomes very soft? This phenomenon is called “jamming” in the report [pdf; only 6 pages] about this new robotic gripper they created.

Just watch the video.

The guy sounds a bit professional, but the video is pretty well done.

The design of the gripper is simple. You’ve got a big amorphous blob of malleable material—they actually used coffee grounds—which readily deforms around whatever it’s pressed against. Once deformed around whatever it’s going to pick up, the air in the blog—a latex bag—is sucked out, making the gripper keep its new shape. Because the bag is latex, it does a pretty good job of holding on to things.

Robotic hand holding a light bulb

It's not even using two of the fingers. What a waste!

Consider the following:

  • Coffee:  about $10
  • Balloon: $0.25
  • The rest: A few thousand for fabrication, vacuum and 3-4 axes of movement


  • Textured rubber to mimic fingerprints: a few hundred
  • At least 18 axes of movement (fingers, wrist, within the hand): Many thousands
  • And so forth.

To be fair here, a fingered hand could do something like play Jenga, which a large balloon-shaped thing would be incapable of doing.

But how many uses for a Jenga robot are there, versus a robot to do something simple and repetitive like moving stuff from one place to another?

Read the interview between blogger Erico Guizzo and doctor Eric Brown (lead author of the paper I linked to), on IEEE Spectrum.

Read about other cool robot projects:


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