Is This Robotic Hand As Quick As Yours?

A five-fingered robot hand developed by University of Washington computer science and engineering researchers can learn how to perform dexterous manipulation — like spinning a tube — on its own.

(ADROIT Manipulation Platform)

A University of Washington team of computer scientists and engineers has built what they say is one of the most highly capable five-fingered robot hands in the world. It can perform dexterous manipulation and learn from its own experience without needing humans to direct it.

Their work is described in a paper to be presented May 17 at the IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation.

“Hand manipulation is one of the hardest problems that roboticists have to solve,” said lead author Vikash Kumar, a UW doctoral student in computer science and engineering. “A lot of robots today have pretty capable arms but the hand is as simple as a suction cup or maybe a claw or a gripper.”

The UW research team has developed an accurate simulation model that enables a computer to analyze movements in real time. In their latest demonstration, they apply the model to the robot hardware and to real-world tasks like rotating an elongated object.

With each attempt, the robot hand gets progressively more adept at spinning the tube, thanks to machine learning algorithms that help it model both the basic physics involved and plan which actions it should take to achieve the desired result. (This demonstration begins at 1:47 in the video below.)

SF fans have been flexing their robotic hands (in imagination, anyway) for quite a while. Consider the robot-surgeon hand From Philip K. Dick's 1955 story War Veteran:

From time to time V-Stephens examined his wristwatch and then turned his attention back to the object crawling up and down the sealed edges of the entrance-lock. The object moved slowly and cautiously. It had been exploring the lock for twenty-nine hours straight; it had traced down the power leads that kept the heavy plate fused in place... During the last hour it had cut its way throught the rexeroid surface to within an inch of the terminals. The crawling, exploring object was V-Stephen's surgeon-hand, a self-contained robot of precision quality usually joined to his right wrist. (Read more about the robot-surgeon hand )

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