Our favorite grippy robot fist, the balloon filled with coffee grounds, has graduated from grabbing to throwing. Its developers at Cornell University and the University of Chicago have taught it how to hurl objects
, from mini basketballs to darts.
Robotic hands that resemble our own can be elegant and useful, but they are expensive and tricky to make, which is why the Cornell/Chicago team developed the balloon fist instead. The Kinetic Object grippiNg Arm, or KONA
, which we christened it when it was announced, conforms to the shape of whatever object you want it to pick up. The balloon presses down and deforms to fit the shape of the object, and then a vacuum removes the air from the balloon, solidifying its grip.
Its creators taught it to throw by reversing that process — rapidly re-filling the balloon with air. You might think this would cause a clumsy fumble as the carefully gripped object comes loose. You would be wrong.