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SERVO 03.2014 9
Universal Gripper Goes Commercial
Many inventions never make it out of the
research lab, but it was recently announced that
an innovative gripper developed at the University
of Chicago and Cornell University is now
commercially available from Empire Robotics. The
concept is almost bonehead simple compared to
grippers that imitate the human hand, but it is
both versatile and cheaper than most android
hands (reported to cost about $4,000).
The device is based on the physical
phenomenon called jamming transition in which
grainy materials — which can flow like sand
through an hourglass when loosely packed —
become rock solid when tightly packed together
(like a brick of vacuum-packed coffee).
The Versaball starts out as a soft bag of
granules that is pressed against the item you want to pick up. A vacuum is then applied to solidify it and
trap the object within its grip. Because it doesn't care what the object is shaped like, Versaball can work
with a wide variety of items including hex nuts, bottles, light bulbs, and even LEGOs. Its pinching pressure
is 7 PSI, allowing it to lift objects that weigh up to 20 lb (9 kg). Actuation speed is 0.1 to 0.5 seconds, and
it operates at temperatures from 40°F to 160°F ( 4. 5°C to 71°C).
Company officials believe the technology might eventually be useful in prosthetic devices, in-home
assistive devices, and even military robots, but for now they are focused on improving the industrial model.
To see it at work, visit www.empirerobotics.com/videos.html.
Roomba to Beer Buddy
Last and certainly least is a bot that emerged some time ago
on the RobotShop ( www.robotshop.com) Community Forum.
The Brewster is a robot servant whose sole purpose is to fetch a
cold beer — which is not a bad idea when you think about it. It's
basically just a hacked old Roomba with an EZ-B controller
(available from www.ez-robot.com) and some other hardware.
Judging by the You Tube video (search for Brewster beer
buddy), it works pretty well, although its modest arm length limits
you to the bottom shelf of a compact refrigerator. Plus, it isn't
available commercially, so you'll have to build it yourself if you
The name of this automaton's perpetrator was not directly
revealed, probably because he's ashamed of drinking Keystone
Light (as well he should be). His RobotShop username is robmcc,
and the You Tube one is rmccallum1966, so there's a good chance
that we're talking about someone named Rob McCallum. At least spring for a
real Coors next time, Rob. The extra 50 cents won't kill you. SV
Empire's Versaball® gripper picks up a shock absorber.
Brewster beer bot delivers a cold one.