BalloonBot was inspired by the Universal Gripper developed by researchers at Cornell University, the University of Chicago and iRobot. This novel robotic gripping device uses a latex party balloon filled with ground coffee. It takes advantage of a physical phenomenon called jamming transition. When particles like coffee grounds are densely packed they can no longer slide past each other and behave like a solid. When the grounds are loosely packed, they behave like a liquid. You have probably seen this effect if you have ever bought one of those vacuum-packed bags of ground coffee. Because all the air has been removed, the coffee is tightly packed and forms a hard brick. When you open the bag and let the air back in, they return back into loose coffee grounds.
My version of this gripper was constructed from:
- CrustCrawler SG6-UT Robotics Arm
- Yost Engineering ServoCenter Mini servo controller
- 10" Party Balloon
- Stop & Shop Original Roast Ground Coffee
- Reynolds Handi-Vac (Reynolds Vacuum Food Storage System)
As I discovered the gripper is very adept at picking up and holding a variety of small objects. It easily picked up small tools like forceps and wire cutters. I tried a range of screws all the way down to a ½” 4-40 screw. It picked them all up with ease and in many case several at a time. Try that with any conventional gripper! Finally I tried it with two Tylenol caplets. Not only could it pick two at the same time placed in virtually any position, it never crushed or damaged them. Truly amazing!
My congratulations to Cornell University, the University of Chicago and iRobot for coming up with such an innovated and revolutionary gripper.