Picture of Universal Gripper - Syringe Powered

The “universal gripper” developed by researchers from Cornell University, the University of Chicago, and iRobot inspired me to create my own version. The YouTube video is quite impressive. The gripper can form around very asymmetrical and smooth shapes and still pick up the object.

I gathered the materials below and decided to create a gripper of my own that could be incorporated into one of my robot designs. Adding a vacuum pump or a powerful air mover seemed difficult and probably unnecessary. So I started to think about vacuums.

I remembered that when they were filming “An American Werewolf in London” that Rick Baker used hypodermic syringes hooked up in a line. When a really big syringe was compressed at the end of the line, the little ones popped up creating the appearance of a spinal column erupting below the skin of the creature’s back.

I decided that the same idea might work with the “universal gripper.”

In addition, I thought that using a funnel could work nicely for balloon support. Playing around with it, I thought that adding a pressure sensor inside of the funnel would allow the Arduino to apply suction when the balloon came into contact with the object to pick up. This lead me to Plusea and her instructables using velostat and flexible materials.

Amazingly, it all seem to work. Follow these steps to see how I did it. You can probably see alterations that would improve the design.

Step 1: Materials

Picture of Materials
  • Good quality latex balloon
  • Aquarium plastic tubing
  • 60 ml veterinarian syringe
  • 11/64” brass tubing
  • zip ties
  • Bond 527 cement
  • Conductive thread
  • Needle
  • Craft foam
  • some #6 bolts and nuts
  • 5 cm of U channel aluminum
  • TowerPro servo MG995
  • flat stock aluminum
  • an Arduino or other microprocessor

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don.zimbelman5 months ago

Brilliant!!! I have been wanting to mock up something like this but didn't really want to fool around with pumps etc...as you state power consumption is always an issue!!!

ramyaas7 months ago

Hi. I had a doubt. I am trying to make a similar prototype, but my idea is to automate the whole process by constructing the robotic arm. So I was wondering if there is a way in which we could confirm if the gripper has actually held on to the object or not? This is because as soon as the balloon presses either on the surface or around the object, it is bound to diverge and so a signal would be sent, so what if the gripper didnt make contact at all with the object? or maybe the gripper did make a contact but while lifting the object fell, the how do we check?

yaly1 year ago
can it pick a glass of water like on youtube ?
AJMansfield2 years ago
The more jagged edges you have, the more finely the grit is actually able to compact on itself, at least by one theory. Finer grit would be better, I think. The only thing it really has to have is sheer thickening (think cornstarch and water).
techiebot (author)  AJMansfield2 years ago
If you read the article, the researchers discuss the optimum material that is fine but not smooth so that the particles grip onto each other. Their conclusion was that coffee grounds make an ideal material, and they are very light. I think your cement idea is interesting, but the material needs to be easily deformed so that when the balloon is pressed onto an object the material inside the balloon can "flow" around the object.
Portland cement powder actually flows extremely well; when completely dry, it behaves very much like a liquid, actually. It will even splash up if you drop an item into it (it's far cheaper than coffee grounds, too: $5 gives you around 50lbs of it, which will fill 1-2 cubic feet of space). Plus, you can mix it with gravel, sand, and water to make concrete (if you want to be really fireproof, mix powdered fireclay with it).
AJMansfield2 years ago
I'd probably use something like Portland cement for the fill material, because its much finer than coffee grounds, sand, and most other types of grit materials.
Kiteman4 years ago
Very cool, but is it my imagination that the gripper currently lets go as soon as the pressure is off?

techiebot (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
I programmed it to only keep the plunger pulled back for 2 seconds. I didn't test it yet, but if there are no leaks in the balloon or hose, you should be able to hold the object indefinitely (as long as the plunger is pulled back). When I was first getting the servo to work it definitely held the bolt for a minute or two while I was trying to get all of the connections right.
Cool - so when it's on the arm, you'll need to programme separate "pick up" and "put down" commands.
techiebot (author)  Kiteman4 years ago
Yes, that would be necessary. What I like is that an arm could be programmed to descend until the pressure of the balloon against the funnel is at a certain level. That way the robot would know that it was in contact with the object even if the object was on an irregular surface.
Or be fancy and do capacitive profiling instead.
sir,im trying to build a wall climbing robot, i got problem about the suction to be held between the robot and the wall.in my search i found that gecko adhesive is the efficient one,but im using air pushres to held the vacuume pressure ,but im unable to design the body,ofcourse im trying but i need ur help
That's probably better as a forum topic, then you get more help.
Hi - nice instructable. I made something similar awhile back, but used a different approach to the suction device; should be perfect for your gripper and will let you get rid of the servo AND the syringe...  a miniature pump
techiebot (author)  propellerheadgeek4 years ago
The pump looks cool. And so cheap! Depending upon how the pump is constructed, it might have to remain on in order to keep a vacuum. What I liked about the syringe is that once the plunger is pulled back, it takes no power to keep the grip on the object. And for most robots, power consumption is a major concern.

Thanks for the pump source.
Put a normally-shut solenoid valve between the pump and the gripper.
rj443194 years ago
This would be great for a quad rotor to pick up items and move them around!!!
Having to lug around that balloon full coffee grounds or sand or cement or whatever, might be too heavy, though.
coffee grounds are not heavy
formellini4 years ago
Hi, whi don't you put a spring in the siringe to keep always active the gripper?
I think is more easy press a siringe with one hand than pulling. with the spring inside the gripper is autolocking and you can hold an object without using your Hand, you need it only for grabbing and releasing.
techiebot (author)  formellini4 years ago
That is a good idea. I was just experimenting with the syringe in the video to see if it would work. Then I had to see if the servo was strong enough to pull the plunger back. My real goal was to have it totally automated and hands-free.
I like the spring idea or i saw a neat instructable recently about how to turn an aquarium pump into a mini vacuum pump
It could be possible to combine both this and your project....
techiebot (author)  survivorwolf2 years ago
Thanks for the link. My idea was that every robot struggles with having enough power to operate. I thought that a servo holding position would consume less power than any pump I could think of. Plus, it's silent. But the aquarium pump is something I want to look into. Thanks again!
Sketch982 years ago
Can you pick up round or smooth things like a ping pong ball?
techiebot (author)  Sketch982 years ago
It actually does pretty well with smooth objects. The rubber membrane of the balloon has a certain amount of friction to it. If you read the article by the university researchers, there's also some vacuum created between the object and the membrane. So it works better than you think it would.
vigilantice3 years ago
Ha a buddy of mine is doing the science olympiad robot arm competition. I had seen the cornell version a while back and told him he should try to do something like it but he told me it could never be done cheap enough and without a vacuum pump. Showed him, didn't you? Excellent job on the gripper.
Perhaps this could be useful to the elderly and disabled, if the whole system was installed in something like one of those "litter picker" grab sticks.
techiebot (author)  ElectroFrank3 years ago
I agree. It seems to me that there could be many uses for this concept. It could help a lot of people. I imagine that it must be extremely frustrating to not be able ot pick up a medication or some other small object successfully.
Thanks for the comment.
ramicaza3 years ago
Thats supper cool!!!!! i must use this in a robot! thanks for the instructable
Wow, great idea!
LifeWarrior4 years ago
sorry pic screwed up this was the idea
techiebot (author)  LifeWarrior3 years ago
It seems like it could work. Again, you are depending upon the strength of the bulb walls to create a vacuum. I didn't do any scientific testing on how much vacuum is needed to "jam" the coffee into a rigid form. Let me know if it works.
Cool, when I can I'll try it, I have several other projects in the works right now, haven't had too much time to try many but this one is definitely worth the work up. Now that think of it a silk screen of some kind might prevent the grounds from getting sucked up through the hose, and with that maybe a shop vac attachment would be a cool addition too. Just brainstorming for when I try this.
techiebot (author)  LifeWarrior3 years ago
My local hardware store sells a very fine mesh metal screen meant for use in water pumps. I don't know what it's called, but I bought a piece some time ago. Perhaps it would work and not restrict the flow of air.
I'll check for something like that, thanks for all the info
techiebot (author)  LifeWarrior4 years ago
That looks good for a one-way valve. What would you do to get positive pressure back into the balloon?
I'm not sure how it works, I just put together this picture on how I think that type of valve operates, but I think that it follows your line of thinking that the walls of the bulb are so thick that it pushes the upper bearing through force up letting air in, but I'm just guessing. They sell these on ebay and after seeing your 'ible I was just wondering if you've ever encountered those or tried one for something like this because of the pumping action I wonder if it would it create the same effect on the balloon. I was considering buying one for a manual operation to try this project, but being the building I was interested in your experience regarding a pumping action rather than a single drawing motion like the syringe.
LifeWarrior4 years ago
Very cool, I wonder if this could be done with one of those squeeze bulb valves instead if a syringe, and also what would you say is the max weight that it can pick up
YES, I would like to know if it can be used with a turkey baster style bulb! Good thinking!
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