The field of robotics is advancing every year and we already have robots that can walk like humans, react like humans, or even look like humans. One area that has remained difficult to master is the act of gripping objects and picking them up. The problem is two-fold. A robot needs to be able to grip without breaking the object and have the dexterity to cope with multiple shapes, weights, and surface types.Researchers believe they have now cracked the problem by replacing the typical grab or robotic finger arrangement with a latex balloon filled with ground coffee.It sounds unbelievable, but the researchers found a way to make the loose coffee grounds in the balloon have both a rigid and soft state. The coffee grounds can roll around and envelop an object when in a soft state, but then applying a vacuum inside the balloon makes them go rigid. Any object surrounded by the grounds in the balloon is then caught and can be picked up. Remove the vacuum and the grounds become loose again.As the tests in the video show, the grabber, known as a universal jamming gripper, can pick up a multitude of different items making it very useful as a manufacturing tool as well as many other fields.The robot has been developed at Cornell University, the University of Chicago, and with help from iRobot and funding from DARPA.Read more at IEEE SpectrumMatthew’s OpinionThe performance of the gripper even surprised the researchers as they never thought it would be able to grip a penny, but it did. The strength of the grip is also impressive and even 15lbs of weight isn’t an issue. On the other hand it’s sensitive enough not to break an egg.The one remaining issue seems to be speed of operation. You’ll notice in the video that certain demonstrations were sped up. For this to be a viable industrial robot then it needs to get quicker, but surely that’s just a case of applying the vacuum state more quickly.What this does show is that robots may have to go in different directions to achieve the same interactions as humans in some respects. Clearly a robot hand isn’t as good as a balloon gripper. That may change one day, but for now this is the best gripping robot I’ve ever seen.