The robotic hand is getting a makeover, and it is inspired not by computing power but rather by the flexible and springy legs of tiny-brained cockroaches.
It turns out that robotic hands, which can inform the development of prosthetic ones, are rarely able to perform simple tasks that require dexterity, such as picking up a delicate object without first knocking it over.
Key to being able to grasp an object is the ability to quickly assess the relationship between that which is doing the grasping (i.e. a hand) and that which is being grasped (i.e. the Motorola Xoom).
Many mammals, humans among them, compensate for any errors in navigating this relationship by softening their fingers to make the grasp more flexible. Many artificial hands have been designed with this flexibility in mind, but the computing power required to control all the sensors and motors was so high that the hands were, by extension, quite slow.
"We took the opposite approach and tried to understand the fundamental mechanics using good mechanical design practices," says Aaron Dollar, an assistant professor of engineering at Yale, in an Inside Science News Service report. The goal was simply to engineer a hand that was able to adapt quickly to grasp a variety of shapes.… Read more