Posted on October 22nd, 2010 by Bob and Joy Schwabach
Last night we saw a remarkable thing at a University of Chicago lecture. An unusual robot hand could pick up things as delicate as raw eggs or as heavy as steel balls, without pausing for re-programming.
Our lecturer was University of Chicago Physics Professor Heinrich Jaegar, who is working with iRobot, the company that makes the Roomba vacuum cleaner. He demonstrated that fine grain materials, such as sand, can behave like liquids when poured.
The properties of these liquid-like solids can be exploited for robot grips. A small flexible bag filled with fine-grained material can mold itself around almost any object. If air is withdrawn, the material in the bag tightens and grips any object. The demonstration included lifting pencils and shock absorbers with the same sand-filled bag.
On December 4, Professor Jaeger and the University of Chicago are sponsoring their annual “Physics with a Bang.” You can see videos of past events here.