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Here’s a Squishy Robotic Hand Grabbing a Pumpkin (and Other Inanimate Objects)

Soft robots could revolutionize surgery and search and rescue operations. But they’ve already forever changed how we handle pufferfish.

by Brian Anderson
Oct 28 2014, 4:30pm

Soft robots might very well revolutionize surgery and search and rescue operations. But they've already forever changed how we handle seasonal gourds. 

At least, that's what you're looking at in this demo video for a new adaptive gripping platform from Soft Robotics Inc., a Boston-based start up specializing in "rubbery robots" that can be could be used during surgery and various other biomedical applications.

To demonstrate the sort of adroitness that Soft Robotics is after, the company set its modular, interchangeable graspers loose of a range of objects, from the pliant (heads of fresh produce) to the cumbersome (pumpkins, pufferfish).

"We thought, 'What's the scariest thing you could grab with your bare hands?'" Soft Robotics CEO Carl Vause told me. Thus, pufferfish.

"The big gripper is picking up 3-4 kilograms right now," Vause added. "The little gripper"—seen below—can carry about 500-600 grams."

"This platform is able to handle tasks ranging from the incredibly delicate manipulation of a mushroom or pastry liner to unstructured environments where objects may be wet, submerged, sharp, cluttered, or occluded by nearby obstacles," according to the company, whose founders recently released an open-source soft robotics toolkit.

Time will tell if this kind of lightweight platform will truly be able to scale. One thing's for sure: flexy, squishy service 'bots are going to take some getting used to.