Robot Hand is a Balloon Filled With Coffee Grounds

John Amend and Hod Lipson with the robot hand. Photo by Robert Barker, University Photography, via the Cornell Chronicle Online.

Fast Company’s Ariel Schwarz has a post about an amazing robot hand developed by researchers at Cornell, iRobot Corporation and the University of Chicago. It’s made out of what amounts to a balloon filled with coffee grounds.

You heard me! A balloon filled with coffee grounds. And it turns out that this particulate-matter sort of robot-hand concept is almost old hat in the robot-concept department, though this is a new application.

Before you start digging through your compost, read on. Schwarz describes this amazing concept with a quote from one of the designers:

Hod Lipson, Cornell associate professor of mechanical engineering and computer science, explained in a statement, “The ground coffee grains are like lots of small gears. 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.” Any particulate matter that jams well can be used in theory; the researchers chose coffee after experimenting with ground-up tires, rice, and couscous.

Couscous. Is science delicious, or what?

Fast Company’s piece features a New Scientist video, and the Cornell Chronicle has more info about the robot hand’s development.

Furthermore, a Hizook post informs me that this type of technology is (or was) called “particle-jamming skin,” and nicknamed the “blob bot,” which I like a lot better.

A user comment on Schwarz’s post mentions that iRobot CEO Collin Angle demonstrated a prototype of this concept back in 2009 at TEDMED in a talk about robots for medical applications. It’s a talk filled with fascinating robot love:

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