Cornell Computational Synthesis Laboratory built a universal robotic gripper out of a balloon, coffee grounds, and a vacuum. Here is a fancy explanation of how it works:
Individual fingers are replaced by a single mass of granular material that, when pressed onto a target object, flows around it and conforms to its shape. Upon application of a vacuum the granular material contracts and hardens quickly to pinch and hold the object without requiring sensory feedback.
If they could get the price down to a couple hundred bucks and it could reach from my couch to my coffee table, I’d totally buy it. [via Co.Design]