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Hoop-playing robot may push you out of a job

This video is a demonstration of the new shooting capabilities of a universal jamming gripper that also utilizes positive pressure.

If your job involves tasks such as sorting springs and screws or unloading dishwashers, a robot replacement may soon be on the way.

For now, the granular-gripper robot demonstrated in the video above is perhaps best suited as a sidekick for bar games you might play while trying to grab the attention of a potential flesh-and-bone soul mate.

That is, assuming the potential mate doesn't fall for the robot instead. After all, its barroom athleticism is tough to beat — able to sink mini-basketball shots with uncanny accuracy and hit the bull's eye on the dartboard time and time again.

The tossing ability of jamming robot gripper is a new trick from roboticists working on the grasping technology at Cornell University and the University of Chicago. 

The gripper itself is essentially a balloon filled with granular material, in this case coffee grounds. This squishy balloon hand conforms to whatever object it touches. When the air is sucked out of the balloon, a tight grip is created. To toss the object, the gripper is rapidly re-inflated with air. 

While this all seems simple, anyone who's tried to consistently sink baskets on the court or in a bar knows that picking up balls and tossing them repeatedly through the hoop isn't nearly as easy as it seems.

From the roboticists' perspective, the technology is an improvement over other throwing robots.

"Certainly throwing has been demonstrated with robot arms before, but the momentum for throwing is typically provided by the arm motion while the gripper simply releases the object at the optimum time," the researchers write in a FAQ accompanying their paper to appear in IEEE Transactions on Robotics.

"Here, the entirety of the shooting function is provided by the gripper."

While the shooting skill of the robot isn't good enough for it to go to work tossing together electronic components, which requires higher precision, it is good enough to pick up trash after a good house party.

Other potential applications, the team notes, include picking up and quickly disposing of improvised explosive devices (IEDs). After all, the research is supported by DARPA.

— Via IEEE

More on throwing robots and the robotic workforce:

John Roach is a contributing writer for msnbc.com. To learn more about him, check out his website and follow him on Twitter. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.


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