Press Release Software and Technology Development

VERSABALL® Robot Gripper Challenges Beer Pong Champions at CES 2015

Attendees at International CES in Las Vegas, January 6-9, will encounter a new industrial robotic gripper archetype as Empire Robotics demonstrates the precision, gentle touch, and safe human interaction of its VERSABALL gripper by competing with any attendee up for the challenge at a game of beer pong, culminating in a competition between professional beer pong players and robot on the opening day. All of this takes place in the Empire Robotics’ booth #75183 at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.

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On January 6th at 3 PM PST Empire Robotics in conjunction with BPONG.COM, the leading organization for professional beer pong and organizers of The World Series of Beer Pong, will hold a beer pong competition between VERSABALL and the newly crowned winners of BPONG’s The World Series of Beer Pong. The two groups will face off in a man versus machine showdown.

Aside from the special event, the new end-of-arm tool will grip and propel ping pong balls as seen in this demo video in an open challenge to all CES attendees.

The game demonstrates the VERSABALL’s ability to handle delicate objects and produce precise grip and release performance to consistently shoot the ping pong ball seven feet into a small plastic cup.

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This performance results from years of research and development in jamming technology, the foundation for all of Empire Robotics’ products.

The demonstration illustrates how the VERSABALL attached to a UR robot arm offers an optimal choice for safe, collaborative robot applications with humans working in close proximity to robots on robust manufacturing tasks. Many manufacturers are choosing a VERSABALL enabled collaborative system to eliminate pinch points in the setup, thereby increasing safety and decreasing cost.

VERSABALL Solves Automation Challenges
Historically, manufacturers have spent a great deal of engineering resources designing specialized and varied grippers for industrial production. To meet the demands of agile manufacturing — typically with a low-volume, high-mix series of tasks — automating production involves frequent reprogramming and retooling. For many companies, the final solution often combines expensive mechanical, vacuum, and magnetic grippers into a complex end-of-arm tool that is highly specific to the application and not easily adaptable or reusable.

In contrast to traditional, fixed tooling, Empire Robotics VERSABALL delivers an out-of-the-box, multitask solution that easily adapts to a variety of tasks. In a matter of minutes, with a fraction of the engineering time and effort, VERSABALL can be programmed or reprogrammed to pick and place parts that vary — like ceramics — and consistent parts with varied orientations such as objects that fall randomly on a conveyor.

Industry Testing Leads to Commercial Availability
The commercial availability of the VERSABALL gripper follows extensive industry testing of the Empire Robotics’ research kit available since January 2014. The research kits include small- and large-sized heads, along with the necessary pneumatic base and accessories to properly operate the gripper.

Testing garnered significant interest from companies such as Callaghan Innovation in New Zealand, who is interested in the VERSABALL because of its ability to grip naturally varying objects.

“The VERSABALL adds value by gripping objects where rough surfaces would cause problems for suction cups,” said Phil Stucki, R&D Engineer with Callaghan Innovation. “Overall, we found VERSABALL quite easy to install, and it worked well for many applications.”

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About the VERSABALL
The VERSABALL is a squishy balloon membrane full of loose sub-millimeter particles. The soft ball gripper easily conforms around a wide range of target object shapes and sizes. Using a process known as “granular jamming”, air is quickly sucked out of the ball, which vacuum-packs the particles and hardens the gripper around the object to hold and lift it. The object releases when the ball is re-inflated. VERSABALL comes in multiple head shapes and sizes that use the same pneumatic base.

About Empire Robotics www.empirerobotics.com
Empire Robotics was founded in 2012 by CTO John Amend and President Bill Culley and is headquartered in Boston, MA. The company is a Cornell University technology spinout with a talented team of PhD researchers and engineers who are experts in soft robotics and the phase transitions of granular materials. Empire Robotics extends robot gripping into off-the-shelf, end-of-arm tools, a historically highly customized and complex field. In contrast, VERSABALL is an easy-to-program, versatile, turnkey gripper that enables agile manufacturing processes for small and large companies.


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