The human hand is an amazing machine that can pick up, move and place objects easily, but for a robot, this "gripping" mechanism is a vexing challenge. Researchers from Cornell, the University of Chicago and iRobot Corp. have created a versatile gripper using everyday ground coffee and a latex party balloon, bypassing traditional designs based on the human hand and fingers.

Cornell graduate student John Amend and mechanical engineering professor Hod Lipson demonstrate the technology and describe potential applications of the concept.

The research is a collaboration between the groups of Lipson, Heinrich Jaeger at the University of Chicago, and Chris Jones at iRobot. It was published online Oct. 25, 2010 in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.