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Published on Oct 26, 2010
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A team of researchers from Cornell University, the University of Chicago and iRobot have created a "universal gripper" that uses the jamming of particulate material inside an elastic bag to hold on to objects. The work will be published in the advanced online edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences the week of Oct. 25.
The gripper uses the same phenomenon that makes a vacuum--packed bag of ground coffee so firm; in fact, ground coffee worked very well in the device. But the researchers found a new use for this everyday phenomenon: They placed the elastic bag against a surface and then removed the air from the bag, solidifying the ground coffee inside and forming a tight grip. When air is returned to the bag, the grip relaxes.