Empire Robotics, a Boston-based start-up, is beginning to sell their VERSABALL kits, a new-tech jamming gripper enabling adaptive gripping operations with a single inexpensive tool.
Filled with a granular material, in one mode it is squishy enough to envelop an object. Then, when a vacuum is created inside the ball, the granules get pulled together, solidifying around the object. The unique design enables the gripper to pick up a wide range of different objects, which can weigh up to 20 pounds. Early work was done in partnership with iRobot of Bedford, and funded by the Pentagon's R&D arm, DARPA. Cornell holds the patent.
Grabit, a Silicon Valley new-tech gripper start-up, is working with customers on development projects to perfect their new electroadhesion technology. Electroadhesion is an electrically controllable adhesion technology that requires ultra-low power consumption. The technology was developed and patented SRI International. Grabit’s products include grippers and fixtures, case and box handling grippers, and smart conveyors for manufacturing and logistics.
Grippers – the hands of robots – are the physical interface between the robot arm and the work piece. Up until these two start-ups, there used to only be four types of grippers: vacuum, pneumatic, hydraulic and servo-electric (or, for the more technical reader, impactive, ingressive, astrictive or contigutive).
Often combined with clamping, gripper manufacturers abound, but Schunk, a family-run German company, has been at the forefront of the industry. They will soon be bringing to market a 5-fingered hand with sensors on each finger’s pads, for intricate work.
Another interesting gripper is the Switl from Japanase Furukawa Kiko Co., Ltd. This gripper can lift soft and jelly-like objects which lose shape when gripped, cannot be gripped, or cannot be touched, etc. Objects like Mayonnaise and Ketchup can be picked up without changing their shape and moved to a different location while retaining the shape. Fascinating video: