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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."