February 23, 2012

Researchers’ Robot Can Shoot Hoops

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Big Red sports teams: You have some competition.

Cornell and University of Chicago researchers have created a robot that can not only shoot hoops, but also pick up coins, screws, springs, cups and more.

The project that led to the robot’s creation was funded by the United States Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. While the robot was originally intended for military use, researchers ended up creating a multipurpose device with athletic capabilities.

John Amend grad, one of the lead researchers on the team, said in an email that the inspiration for their work came while they were exploring “granular jamming,” or the manipulation of an object to act as “a crowbar at one moment, and then … as a stool soon after (or any number of other uses).” The researchers ended up designing a gripper, a device capable of picking up objects.

“I think our work with these new grippers is an example of how research can lead to interesting discoveries that [one] did not originally set out to find,” Amend said.

Amend also said that the performance of the gripper has been significantly improved and diversified since it was first created a few years ago.

“Prior to this work, we were unaware of any robot grippers that are able to shoot or throw objects a comparable distance with similar accuracy,” he said.

While previous grippers have had difficulties picking up a large number of objects because they were mechanical arms, this new gripper is not only cost efficient, but also more effective. The “universal jamming gripper” looks like a balloon filled with sand. Air is pumped into or released from the balloon to allow it to pick up and throw objects, according to an article published by Wired UK.

Though this technology did not fulfill its original military purposes, researchers are trying to further develop the gripper and determine how to best use the device for DARPA. Amend said that they hope to eventually develop robots that will be able to locomote or recover from damage.

The publishers and innovators of the recent research –– Amend and Prof. Hod Lipson, mechanical and aeroscape engineering,  and Eric Brown, Nicholas Rodenberg and Heinrich Jaeger from the University of Chicago –– have been cited in several international sources  for their work.

Although it may seem far removed from the researchers’ original plans for the device, the robot might someday make an appearance at a basketball game at Newman Arena.

“I cannot picture it,” said Errick Peck ’13, a forward on the Cornell Varsity men’s basketball team. “Although it may be interesting to watch.”

Original Author: Tina Ahmadi