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Robotic Hand Demonstrates Firm Grip and Gentle Touch

Robotic hand holding a colored egg (Saarland University)

Robotic hand holding a colored egg (Saarland University)

An engineering team at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany has built a robotic hand with the ability to firmly grasp sturdy objects like bottles, yet with enough sensitivity to hold an egg (pictured right). The Saarland researchers collaborated with colleagues in Bologna and Naples, Italy as part of the EU-funded DEXMART project, an acronym for DEXterous and autonomous dual-arm/hand robotic manipulation with sMART sensory-motor skills.

The researchers faced the challenge of making the necessary technology fit within the robotic arm so it does not differ significantly from a human arm in terms of size and form. “We wanted to impart our robotic hand with a broad spectrum of human traits,” says Chris May, a research scientist in Saarland’s Laboratory of Actuation Technology. “Its artificial muscles should be able to deliver enormous forces by simple and compact means.”

The ability to grasp firmly, yet with sensitivity, is the result of string actuators that use small electric motors to twist the strings that operate the robotic fingers. “Using strings that are twisted by small, high-speed motors,” says May, “we are able to exert high tensile forces within a compact space.”

The robotic hand is equipped with polymer strings enable the device to lift a five kilogram load (11 pounds) by 30 mm (1.2 inches) within a split second, making use of a small electric motor and a 20 cm (7.9 inch) long string. The mini electric motors run at high speed and in a tight rotation. Each robotic finger, which like a human finger, is comprised of three segments that can be controlled precisely by means of the individual tendons.

“The capability of the robotic hand,” May adds, “is so near to that of humans that the vision of robots as personal assistants in the household, in the operating room as well as in industrial settings is becoming ever more realistic.”

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