How can I use Gradle's dependency resolution mechanism at runtime?

Is there something like Eclipse Aether for Gradle that lets me use the local cache (~/.gradle/caches) and resolve dependencies programmatically at runtime? Can I use the gradleApi() somehow to do that?

I found this post from January 2014, where a core developer had the idea to split the “dependency resolution engine into its own, lightweight, library”. What’s the status on that?