Blog Written by Hutch Hutchison, Director, Technology & Engineering Matching, FuzeHub
Empire Robotics, a startup formed by two Cornell University grad students in 2010, has entered production of its unique robot gripper, the Versaball. The gripper uses simple vacuum packing technology to force granular particles inside an enclosure to interlock when vacuum is applied. Think how hard a vacuum-packed container of coffee grounds is, until you open it and break the vacuum. The gripper, whose early prototypes had coffee grounds inside a balloon, uses that simple analogy to conform to an object’s shape with no vacuum, then grip tightly when vacuum is applied.
The principals, John Amend and Bill Culley, were graduate students at Cornell, when Cornell first entered a collaboration with University of Chicago and iRobot, funded by DARPA. The two students developed the technology to fruition, and formed Empire Robotics in 2012 to commercialize it, after they saw demand from industry for this type of gripper for robots. Their initial prototypes consisted of coffee grounds inside party balloons, to demonstrate the principle.
The company participated in the FuzeHub-driven Solutions Fair in Buffalo, in March of 2013, where they were matched to resources from Buffalo’s RTDC/MEP Cneter Insyte Consulting, RPI Center for Automation Technology, Cornell’s Center For Materials Research, and University of Buffalo CMI. Insyte, which also manages the Buffalo Angel Investment network, (Managed by Jack McGowan, a FuzeHub Regional Innovation Specialist) is currently working on providing more funding to Empire. The Cornell interaction encouraged an application for a CCMR Jump Start grant to continue materials investigation, but Empire has not applied yet.
Empire won a SBIR award in January of 2013, which has helped them reach this goal of shipping prototypes to potential customers. A shout out of “Congratulations!” to these New York Entrepreneurs! Read the article in Robotics Online: Versaball Robot Gripper