A robot made by two Cornell graduates played beer pong with comedian Jimmy Fallon on national TV last week.

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The robot was designed by “Empire Robotics,” a Cornell technology startup, according to Tom Schryver, executive director for the Center for Regional Economic Advancement at Cornell.

It was highlighted last week on “The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon.” “It uses Versaball gripping technology, so it grips the ball tightly,” says Joshua Topolsky, editor of Bloomberg Digital, by way of explanation in the video.

“So it holds on to your balls,” Fallon joked back.

See the video here:

John Amend, the company’s chief technology officer, got his Ph.D. from Cornell in 2013; Bill Culley, the CEO, graduated from Cornell as an undergraduate in 2006, as a master’s student in engineering in 2009 and from the MBA program in 2012.

“The company was formed around that time and has licensed the technology behind its robotic gripper from Cornell,” Schryver says.

Schryver explained further in an email:

The company won its division at the New York State Business Plan competition in 2012 as “SofGrib Robotics”, and has developed a prototype gripper tool called Versaball that’s in the market now. They’ve raised $1.8m in grants and equity from a variety of sources.

Traditional finger-type robotic grippers are great at doing the same task on the same type and placement of object, but dealing with different object types, dimensions, and orientations requires a lot of sophistication and programming and cost.

The main feature of Empire Robotics’ Versaball gripper is its ability to flexibly pick and place objects regardless of their shape or orientation. An example is here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5-fPIK-NGtI


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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.