VERSABALL from Empire Robotics is an agile robot end effector leveraging the jamming phase transition of granular materials. The core technology allows the gripper to conform around any object shape and apply frictional gripping forces. VERSABALL’s advantage lies in its ability to grip objects with many features, varying sizes, and odd geometries that traditional end effectors struggle to grip. VERSABALL comes in a 3.5 and 6.5 inch head model that use the same pneumatic base. VERSABALL has shown ability to pick and place light bulbs, crates, automotive parts, bottles, and more.
VERSABALL works by operating in three modes. The first mode is the completely passive mode. In the first mode there is no airflow and the membrane, filled with granular material, feels like a stress ball. Mode two is engaged by inflating the membrane, creating material flow and allowing VERSABALL to form around target objects. The third mode is a hardened state caused by evacuating the air in the membrane, inducing jamming of the granules. Combining the three modes allows VERSABALL to press against objects in the soft mode and lift objects with the hardened mode. The forces created by the process are geometry and size dependent, but can include friction, normal, and suction forces. The result is a versatile robot end effector that is capable of solving some of the toughest challenges in pick and place automation.
VERSABALL is sold in a research kit form and has garnered significant interest from big name brands intrigued by the unique gripping method. These research kits include the small and large sized heads along with the necessary pneumatic base and accessories to properly operate the gripper. The team hopes that by selling the research kits, their customers will develop a trust in the technology and explore its limits and potential applications.
Empire Robotics provides services beyond the standard research kit. They accept test inquiries about specific parts and will test VERSABALL’s ability to grip parts companies send to their lab in Boston, MA. The team is also offering collaborative implementation services to companies looking to solve automation problems with VERSABALL. Empire Robotics knows how important it is to get production case studies for the success and progression of such a unique technology in the industry.
With the help of industry veterans as advisers, VERSABALL has undergone many revisions to meet the speed and durability expectations of the market. Empire Robotics recently put on a demo at integrator Applied Manufacturing Technologies. VERSABALL picked and placed a gear, light bulb, brick, and cue ball for ten hours without interruption or failure, resulting in 8000 grip cycles. Empire Robotics will be releasing the commercial version of VERSABALL this fall having demonstrated to the industry that their product is ready for production level requirements.
VERSABALL has come a long way from its original prototypes in the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University. The team will be providing strong support for those companies that are interested in exploring a production case for VERSABALL. Empire Robotics is still exploring all possible applications and will be supporting integrators and end users in identifying new applications for VERSABALL.
Grippers have typically been categorized as jaws, magnets, or suction cups, but Empire Robotics sees VERSABALL as a new class of gripping solution to tackle unique pick and place challenges where none of the existing classes excel. Current Empire Robotics customers have shown great enthusiasm and hope for the technology as a new class of gripper. There are many automation problems around the world and Empire Robotics wants to help solve them with the unique characteristics and advantages of soft robotics.
Click HERE to watch VERSABALL in action.
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