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Robotics Hardware

Cheap Four-fingered Robot Hand Edges Closer To Human Dexterity 73

ananyo writes "A robot that can reproduce the dexterity of the human hand remains a dream of the bioengineering profession. One new approach to achieving this goal avoids trying to replicate the intricacy of the bones, joints and ligaments that produce our most basic gestures. A Sandia National Laboratories research team has adopted just such a strategy by designing a modular, plastic proto-hand whose electronics system is largely made from parts found in cell phones. The Sandia Hand can still perform with a high level of finesse for a robot, and is even capable of replacing the batteries in a small flashlight. It is expected to cost about $10,000, a fraction of the $250,000 price tag for a state-of-the-art robot hand today. The Sandia Hand's fingers are modular and affixed to the hand frame via magnets. This gives the researchers the flexibility to design interchangeable appendages tipped with screwdrivers, flashlights, cameras and other tools. The fingers are also designed to detach automatically to avoid damage if the hand hits a wall or other solid object too hard. The researchers say the hand can even be manipulated to retrieve and reattach a fallen finger. The Hand's current incarnation has only four fingers, including the equivalent of an opposable thumb. In the video with the article, the Sandia Hand demonstrates a number of capabilities, including, perhaps most impressively, dropping a AA battery into a flashlight."

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Cheap Four-fingered Robot Hand Edges Closer To Human Dexterity

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  • Why is this hard? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @07:29PM (#41075483)

    I'm surprised that this and walking are such difficult tasks for robots. I would have thought that reverse engineering the hand would be easy once you've got actuators working. And the human gait has been observed to death and yet we can barely get the robots to walk. It's amazing that these structures we have working examples of cannot be mimiced yet in this day and age. Working consciousness, computer vision, anything that involves some sort of understanding on the part of the machine - I get. But a physical thing like the hand or the human gait? Both seem really well understood.

    But I guess they apparently aren't.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @07:54PM (#41075717)

    Everything seems simple to the person who isn't trying to do it.

    Practical real world experience tells us how complicated so much of life really is.

  • by bryonak ( 836632 ) on Tuesday August 21, 2012 @08:21PM (#41075955)

    Do this with a friend: place your phone on your open palm. Let your friend repeatedly hit your hand from below, not too hard, but enough to make the phone jump 1-2 cm. You probably won't have any troubles preventing the phone from dropping on the floor.
    Now take two or three pens, stick them between the fingers of your clenched fist and make sure they are somewhat parallel. Place your phone on them and let your friend hit the sticks from below. You probably don't want to do that, as your phone would land on the floor pretty soon. Using sticks that better approximate your hand, or even better, a display dummy hand, won't help much.

    It's not replicating the mechanical arrangement of your joints, but doing something useful with it. The instantaneous sensory feedback your hand gives you about it's own position and the probable position of the phone (pressure, slight air movement, etc), a good deal of which isn't exactly conscious, is quite hard for us to replicate today (with the resources most robotics teams have). Computers still struggle with the fuzzy matching your hand-eye coordination provides to your muscles in order to move in the right direction.
    Add to that the visual tracking problem you mentioned, and it turns into quite a feat.

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