A Cornell-developed robotic gripper that can pick up, place and throw things with ease is making its first foray into the marketplace.
Cornell spinoff company Empire Robotics has been developing commerical jamming grippers for the industrial automation market, and they are now taking orders for the limited first release of their product, called VERSABALL.
John Amend, a former Cornell graduate student who developed the gripper technology while he worked in Hod Lipson's Creative Machines Lab, co-founded Empire Robotics after he graduated in 2013.
So how exactly do VERSABALL grippers work? According to a company FAQ: Imagine putting flour inside a party balloon and evacuating the air to make the balloon transition from rock-solid to squishy like a stress ball.
This "jamming transition," as the scientists call it, works with pretty much any granular material. In fact, early prototypes used coffee grounds for the jamming granules.