02/16/2012 02:10 pm ET

Universal Gripper Robot Arm Throws Basketballs, Darts (VIDEO)

It seems like everyone has a different theory for Jeremy Lin's meteoric rise to NBA fame, but recent research makes us think the secret of his success may be...robotic arms. Scientists from the University of Chicago and Cornell have created a futuristic grabber that can toss basketballs—pretty well, we might add.

Research on "universal grippers," robots that can grab just about any solid object without having to be familiar with it, have been under development for a few years, but a recent advance gives some of them the ability to shoot objects a few feet. It works by a process called "jamming." in which a flexible bag is filled with sand or a similar material—the grains conform to the shape of the object getting picked up, and when a vacuum sucks all the air out of the bag, the grains hold that shape tightly. If the vacuum is reversed, pumping air back in, the object will shoot out into a basketball hoop, garbage can, enemy's face, etc.

That's no exaggeration—universal grippers have widespread household and even military applications. The researchers expect that their technology will one day be used in tasks ranging from sorting trash to disarming improvised explosive devices, which are the number one killer of U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan. Like much mad science these days, it was funded by the U.S. government's Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The researchers were "surprised" by how effective this air pumping worked, and commented on the novelty of their creation: "Certainly throwing has been demonstrated with robot arms before, but the momentum for throwing is typically provided by the arm motion, while the gripper simply releases the object at the optimum time. Here, the entirety of the shooting function is provided by the gripper."

So will these robot arms be a threat to human ballplayers? It's not likely. But the robot makes two out of three shots in the video, and that's already better than Shaq's free throw shooting.