I just saw a video of device that consists of nothing more than a rubber balloon, some coffee grounds and a pump. I’m pretty sure it’s going to change robotics forever. Have a look:
It’s a wonderful design. It’s cheap to make. You don’t need to position it precisely. You need only minimal knowledge of the object you’re picking up. Robotic grasping has always been too hard to be really practical in the wild. Now a whole class of objects just got relatively easy.
Clearly, the design has it’s limitations. It’s not going to allow for turning the pages of a book, making a cheese sandwich, tying a dasiy chain, etc. But for relatively straightforward manipulation of rigid objects, it’s a beautiful solution. This one little idea could help start a whole industry.
The research was a collaboration between Chicago, Cornell and iRobot, with funding from DARPA. It made the cover of PNAS this month. The research page is here.