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Communications of the ACM

ACM TechNews

Bioinspired Robotic Finger Advances Prosthetics Technology

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Using shape memory alloy, a 3D CAD model of a human finger, a 3D printer and a unique thermal training technique, FAU's bio-inspired robotic finger could ultimately be adapted for use as a prosthetic device.

Researchers at Florida State University have developed a robotic finger that could be used as a prosthetic device.

Credit: Florida Atlantic University

Florida Atlantic University (FAU) researchers have developed a robotic finger using shape memory alloy (SMA), a three-dimensional (3D) computer-aided design (CAD) model of a human finger, a 3D printer, and a new thermal-training technique.

"We have been able to thermomechanically train our robotic finger to mimic the motions of a human finger like flexion and extension," says FAU professor Erik Engeberg. He says the new robotic design is lightweight, but has significant dexterity and strength, offering advantages over traditional mechanisms, and allowing it to possibly be used as a prosthetic device.

The researchers used a resistive heating process called "Joule" heating, which involves the passage of electric currents through a conductor that releases heat. The researchers used a 3D CAD model to create a solid model of the finger, and then used a 3D printer to create the inner and outer molds that house a flexor, an exterior actuator, and a position sensor.

The technology uses both a heating and a cooling process to operate the finger. As the actuator cools, the material relaxes slightly.

"Because our robotic finger consistently recovered its thermomechanically trained shape better than other similar technologies, our underwater experiments clearly demonstrated that the water-cooling component greatly increased the operational speed of the finger," Engeberg says.

From Florida Atlantic University
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