back to article DARPA fashions miracle robotic attachment from balloon, coffee

Topflight robotics boffins in the States have developed a nifty new accessory that no droid should be without - a squashy "gripper" manipulator which can be fashioned out of ground coffee and a party balloon. Credit: John Amend The manipulator works by pressing the soft balloon full of loose coffee grounds down on the …


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  1. Anonymous Coward


    Absolutely fantastic- it's a soft yet firm grip on irregularly shaped objects! Robots finally have an opposable thumb equivalent.

    What do you mean, singularity?

    1. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      Never let the laws of thermodynamics get in the way of crazy futorologists and science fiction writers, eh?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Black Helicopters


    "iRobot, well known as the manufacturer of the Roomba prowler-cleaning machines and as purveyor of war droids to the US military."

    Shan't be buying one of those then!

    1. laird cummings

      Why not?

      It'll certainly clear the room for you...

    2. Mike Moyle

      You don't want a vacuum cleaner...

      ...with a street sweeper attached...?

      I'm actually quite impressed with the picking up a glass and pouring.

      OTOH, the writing demo was a disappointment -- I was expecting "Hello, world". (Honestly -- youngsters today...! No sense of tradition!!

      ...And while it handled the pyramid and the jack, I wonder how well it'd deal with picking up a thumbtack standing on its head...

  3. M7S

    The "technology's" been around for ages

    I've had a set of vacuum splints on my ambulance for at least 15 years. They use polystyrene (or similar) beads but the rest of the operation is the same, although we do tend to gently introduce it under the patient first. I'll try something like this method at my next RTC, although probably not using the head as the point of contact for lifting. If I can connect it to a crane jib, thats my whole manual handling and backstrain issue solved!

    Icon becuase some of you might think we'd actually do this without thinking about it, although some of my colleagues might not think about it far enough..

    How can I get a job at Darpa, or its UK equivalent (will also consider being an evil henchman if the lab is in a volcano lair, with 60's style groupies) having wacky thougts about the stuff that's already out there? I could save them a fortune.

    1. John Smith 19 Gold badge


      "How can I get a job at Darpa, or its UK equivalent (will also consider being an evil henchman if the lab is in a volcano lair, with 60's style groupies) having wacky thougts about the stuff that's already out there? I could save them a fortune"

      Well it used to be called DERA in the UK, but a couple of governments ago they sold off c95% of it to form QuietiQ. The rest is still somewhat odd.

      However the bespoke automation business is full of odd mobs who do odd jobs. Until I saw this the best I'd seen was an effector to pick up and place ripe strawberries (used 2 small side chains running off the same motor driven small gear. *Very* neat).

      The company which built the Thrust jet engined cars are also game for a laugh (Yellow pages does not have a "Jet engined car builders" category. You have to get creative).

      Some will look at practical skills (stuff you built) over academic qualifications. They need people who can get stuff done, not tell you how to do it.

      Not sure about who to approach for a lab job in a dormant volcano...

  4. Russell Brown

    That's all very well but

    when will it be able to make a cup of tea?

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Like it

    Such a simple idea.

  6. Jolyon

    ♫ Please release me latte me go ♬ ♪

    So *that's* what the Daleks' plunger attachment was all about.

  7. Christoph

    Household Items

    "We look forward keenly to more robots assembled from common household or office items in coming years. "

    Balloons, fine. Coffee grounds,fine. Just don't let them near the sink plungers, or we'll all be exterminated!

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dalek manual

    I always wondered how the Dalek's rubber plunger worked.

  9. Tim #3

    May I ...

    be the first to welcome our Gareth Hunt-inspired overlords

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Paris Hilton

    Has nothing on Paul

    Octopi mastered this sucky-picky thing eons ago.

    Now, if my old friends at DARPA would extend their thinking to put it on a pneumatic noodley appendage, we might be getting somewhere.

    ...and Paris, because she's expert in such physics

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    Can I pick up that piece of paper? Here I am brain the size of a planet...

    (And no, I can't pick it up, my sucky-coffee-grain-balloon-hand can't handle paper or anything flat.)

  12. John Robson Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Should be fairly gentle

    Although I imagine that it would have difficulty lifting a bowling ball

  13. MinionZero

    Interesting lateral thinking design.

    Its impressive how well it works. Plus now its helped explain why bean bag seats are so hard to escape from them. :)

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Re: Bean Bag Seats

      Now, if you were to attach a vacuum cleaner (or Hoover!) to a bean bag, you would have fashioned a lovely little trap. Of course, it would probably only be useful for nabbing students, hippies and kids...

      ...but who's got a problem with that?!

  14. nsld

    nothing new

    I had some orthotics built for my ski boots a good seven years ago by a man who uses a large bag full of dusty stuff attached to a vacuum, you stand on it, it sucks and moulds around your feet, you step off, voila foot shapes locked into the bag.

    He then forms your orthotic bases on the mould shape.

    1. Witty username

      yes but

      the orthotic machine didnt then pick you up by your foot and parade you around like a rag doll (i hope)

  15. stucs201
    Thumb Up


    Looks like Davros' idea for a fingerless manipulator arm wasn't so daft after all. I'm sure Darpa are already working on the other arm...

    1. TimeMaster T

      Already have it

      The ALBT. All they have to do now is miniaturize it.

  16. Disco-Legend-Zeke

    If It Can...

    ...pour water, it can pour me a beer.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    I guess that

    Full Caffine coffee would be better at picking things up than decaff.

  18. Lottie


    ... These people get to play with coffee and robots? All at once?

    Must get a job with them!

  19. PhallusOfJustice

    Needs a title

    Isn't this the same idea the emergency services have been using for years for back/neck supports etc?

  20. Paul 4

    I would have thought

    Ceramic chips would have worked as well, without the habit of turning to dust. But then I supose that would not be very DARPA. I asume they will be working on some hyper tech super coffee alternative as we speak.

  21. Kevin Johnston

    Granule size?

    I wonder how small they would have to be to enable the robot to get a grip on the wall in order to climb?

  22. Poor Coco

    All I can say is...

    ...that doesn't suck because it sucks!

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Javascript required

    This'll get moderated out because its not on topic...

    It's a sad day for El Reg - you now need Javascript enabled in order to watch the videos. What's next, needing it to read the articles?

    1. Sarah Bee (Written by Reg staff)

      Re: Javascript required

      Why would you post something expecting it to get nixed? Do you just want to irritate me with irrelevances?

      Well, pft, because I'm accepting it.

  24. laird cummings
    Thumb Up

    The tradition lives!

    My father, a retired DARPA mad sci... Erm, engineer, will be pleased to know that the tradition lives on!

  25. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Thumb Up


    It's been a while since I saw a truly neat hack like this.

    In the robot world the reflex answer is "Build a special purpose end effector to pick up XX" whatever awkward shaped thingy you have.

    This is *very* neat. Flexible (in terms of what it can pick up), gentle, no blade server rack of processors to drive it.

    BTW I think the first time I saw the principle was as a way to mould ejector seats to precisely fit pilots backs. Essentially (as others have said about boots) a bean bag connected to a vacuum cleaner. There the grip was an unwanted side effect.

    This is a nice example of what others have called the "Other way round" effect.

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