At some point we’re going to turn around and this kind of stuff will actually be useful, especially with improvements in vision so that machines can see the orientation of the things they’ve picked up.
The manipulator works by pressing the soft balloon full of loose coffee grounds down on the object to be gripped. Then the air is sucked out of the balloon, causing the coffee granules to press together and lock into a rigid shape – just as they do when vacuum-packed. The object is now securely grasped by the manipulator, and can be released as desired by ending the suction on the granule-filled bulb.
Today, they’ve moved onto bigger and better things, like gripping a banana using the same technique. Meet “compliant electroadhesion.”
As was the case back in 2008, electroadhesion still requires very little power to function. According to SRI, 11 square feet of electroadhesive material will support about 440-lbs. using 40mW.