Robotrunk created by the brilliant minds at MIT


If there is one muscle in the animal kingdom that has proven to be extremely versatile and useful, I would so much as vouch the elephant trunk right behind one’s brains. Of course, as to whether the brain is a kind of muscle or not is really open to interpretation, but the brilliant folks over at MIT have come up with this unique extension of previous technology, calling it the Robotrunk. This is a further development of the robotic universal gripper created in the past which is capable of picking up a wide range of objects courtesy of an elastic membrane that is filled with coffee grounds.

Hmmm, who would have thought that coffee grounds could actually end up so useful, right? Earlier this year, the developers did make it known that they have managed to enable their beloved versatile gripper to be able to “shoot” objects some distance, and now a team at MIT decided to take that technology and tweak it, resulting in a robotic arm which is capable of twisting, flexing and gripping objects in a manner that is not too far removed from that of an elephant’s trunk.

Similar in nature to the universal gripper which was developed collaboratively by researchers at Cornell University, the University of Chicago and iRobot, the robotic arm that was developed at MIT also relies on “jamming granular media”, otherwise known as coffee grounds, where these are not only loose but flexible, resulting in the air being pumped out and the coffee grounds jam together in order to become rigid.

Whenever the gripper relies on this process, it is able to deform around an object whenever the coffee grounds are loose, gripping them tightly when air is sucked out of the balloon by a vacuum. Basically, the MIT team managed to stick a bunch of the grippers together in order for them to form segments in a robotic arm.

The arm, also known as a “trunkbot”, comprises of five jamming segments with separate vacuum valves each placed in between them. IEEE Spectrum says that there is also a quartet of control cables at 90-degree intervals located around the outside of the arm which will pull on it to provide movement. It will work in tandem with the jamming and unjamming of specific segments, changing the motion of the arm so that it can grip objects like an elephant’s trunk.


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