Robotic Hand Has Sensitive Fingertips

Roboticists Neil White, Paul Chappell, Andy Cranny and Darryl Cotton have added something new to the robotic hand they developed at Southampton University. It now has sensors to allow it to grasp delicate objects without breaking them. (See Southampton Remedi Hand Beats Hollywood for the previous incarnation of their robotic hand.)

The new version uses pressure sensors in each fingertip; they are all connected to the control system that maintains the hand's grip. It uses feedback from sensors (just like your fingers, humans!) to prevent each finger from closing further. For example, a styrofoam cup is difficult for robotic hands, due to its delicacy.


(Southampton robotic hand)

The sensors are patches of piezoelectric crystals surrounded by circuitry; thick-film fabrication is used to print them directly onto the surface of each fingertip.

Update 23-Jun-2015: Sensitive robot fingers were predicted by science fiction writers in 1931. Read this excerpt from The Exile of Time by the great Ray Cummings:

We had gone no more than a hundred feet or so when Migul [the robot] slowed our pace, and began to walk stooped over, with one of its abnormally long arms held close to the ground. The fingers were stiffly outstretched and barely skimmed the floor surface of the tunnel. As we passed through a spot of light I saw that Migul had extended from each of the fingertips an inch-long filament of wire, like finger nails.

The Robot murmured abruptly, "Tugh's vibrations are here. I can feel them. He has passed this way recently..."

"He passed here an hour or two ago, perhaps. The vibrations are fading out. But it was Tugh. Well do I know him. Put your hand down. Feel the vibrations?"

"I cannot. My fingers are not that sensitive, Migul."

A faint contempt was in the Robot's tone. "I forgot that you are a man." Then it straightened, and the extended filaments slid back into its fingers.
(Read about the sensitive robot fingers)

End update.

Here is a fistful of mechanical hands for you to grasp.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 12/14/2006)

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