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A Simpler, Gentler Robotic Grip


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robotic hand

A robotic hand designed by researchers at Yale and Harvard Universities automatically adjusts its fingers to successfully grasp a variety of objects, including a wine glass.

Credit: Leif Jentoft / Technology Review

Harvard and Yale University researchers have designed a soft robotic hand that can pick up objects, suggesting a promising future in prosthetic arms. Unlike conventional robotic hands, the new device uses just one motor, which opens and closes the hand, and each of the four polymer fingers contains only two piezoelectric sensors. The sensors are buried into the fingers through shape deposition manufacturing (SDM), and alert the device to physical contact through electrical voltage. Because of SDM's layered nature, the sensors are protected by the rest of the material and do not harm it.

Like a human hand, the robotic hand keeps its fingers relaxed when reaching for an object and can increase or decrease the strength of its grip, says Yale professor Aaron Dollar. Sensors allow the hand to get an idea of an object's shape and material before grabbing hold of it.

"The robot doesn't have to know exactly where the object is, and in human environments, that's really valuable," says Georgia Tech professor Charlie Kemp. He says that because the grip is more flexible, it requires less power from the device. Kemp says that Dollar's work "is pushing forward on how we can have intelligent mechanics with low-level sensing and control. It will make things work better, without having to have a lot of sensing and computation."

Dollar has designed the hand to pick up items such as a soda can or a ball, but hopes to add a precision grip that will help it lift more delicate objects such as pens.

From Technology Review
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