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The Versaball takes a novel approach to picking up objects: using suction and a granular substance, the ball molds itself around each item. Photo Courtesy of Empire Robotics.
The Versaball takes a novel approach to picking up objects: using suction and a granular substance, the ball molds itself around each item. Photo Courtesy of Empire Robotics.

A Very Handy Ball for a Game of Robotic Pick Up

A unique gripper system called the Versaball made it’s first appearance as a commercial product last month, at the International Manufacturing Trade Show in Chicago.

Built by Empire Robotics, the Versaball is not a typical robot hand. It can pick up a wide range of items without lifting a finger — in large part, because it has no fingers. It’s more like a balloon filled with sand.

Say you need the Versaball to pick up a wrench. First, the ball is inflated with a bit of air, allowing the granular material already inside to move freely. Then the ball is pressed down on the wrench. As the air is removed from the ball, the granular material jams up and behaves more like a solid. The ball essentially molds itself around the wrench, creating a firm grip on the object using a variety of gripping forces.

“Empire Robotics’ Versaball is one of the most unique new gripper technologies on the market,” Ed Mullen, National Sales Manager with Universal Robots in North America, said in a press release. “We foresee the Versaball gripper as having the same, positive impact on collaborative robotics as our robot arm has had. The fact that the gripper is soft between grips and can be deployed on the fly further extends the safety and flexibility benefits of our robot arms.”

Designed as an easy-to-use, plug-and-play system, the Versaball Research Kit comes with a 6.5-inch ball, a 3.5-inch ball, a pneumatic base and an adapter plate.

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