Ask most robots to pick up an egg and you end up with... a broken egg. But this pair of automated fingers uses an incredibly delicate thin film and some simple physics to grasp fragile objects with relative ease.

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Developed by researchers from the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne in Switzerland, the system uses two flaps of silicone which contain specially shaped electrodes. The electrodes are charged with a little voltage to create an electrostatic force—the same form of static that allows you to rub a balloon on your sweater then stick it to a wall—allowing it to grip onto the surface of an object beneath.

The electrodes can carry an object around 80 times their own weight, and they don’t need to know a thing about the item in question—they just have to get close enough to take a hold. Their deformable shape also means that irregular objects can be picked up, too. The researchers hope the new digits could make an appearance wherever a gentle robotic touch is needed: in automated food production lines, perhaps, or even in prosthetic hands.

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[EPFL via PhysOrg]