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Robotics Hardware Science Technology

Robotic Hands Grip Without Fingers 105

sciencehabit writes "Physicists have designed a robotic hand that doesn't have fingers, yet can still serve drinks and draw pictures. The hand is a thin, rubber sack filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres. When it comes into contact with an object, a small pipe sucks air from the sack, causing it to contract and mold to the object's shape. As long as the gripper can fold about one-fourth of the object's surface, it can pick up just about any shape thrown in its path. The article includes a video of the hand in action."
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Robotic Hands Grip Without Fingers

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  • Cornelius (Score:3, Funny)

    by bhcompy ( 1877290 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @06:32PM (#34018808)
    Would - you - like - some - more?
    • by EdZ ( 755139 )
      A '-1 Misquote' moderation may be necessary.
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      That's quite a neat idea for an universal gripping device. However, fingers do more than gripping, and I doubt this robotic hand would be able to be modified easily to do more than gripping. Though there is a possibility - a truly morphing hand that can assume almost any shape. Although I believe this is a long long way from now. A hand with fingers is capable of more than this one. Cool invention nevertheless.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward

        Maybe robots could have multiple hands -- this one on the left for gripping things, and one on the right with one or more fingers for various actuating tasks. Voila! Pump-action shotguns and robots, what could be better...

        Seriously, though, depends what you want your robot to do. If you're after some sort of domestic servant to clear the table, wash dishes (i.e. load dishes into that purpose-built dishwashing robot you already have), and maybe cook food, there's not a whole lot besides gripping going on. If

        • by Qzukk ( 229616 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @07:51PM (#34019552) Journal

          So if you wanted a multi-purpose robot, you'd have three hands: on the "one" hand you'd have a single-purpose attachement, on the "other" hand you'd have fingers for manipulating things which didn't have a matching attachment, and then you'd have the "gripping" hand...

        • If you're trying to replicate a human hand, I think you're looking at the problem wrong. We rely on tools to really get work done -- all the hand does is grip the tool. If we can make modular "hand" attachments for our robots, we cut out the middleman in a way that biological creatures can't really do (yet).
      • by sempir ( 1916194 )
        What the hell do you call a hand with no fingers.....other than, of course, a fingerless hand!
  • by by (1706743) ( 1706744 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @06:33PM (#34018814)

    ...can still serve drinks...filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres.

    I think I'll pass...I'd rather have a barista who doesn't confuse coffee with marbles.

  • Oh shit, it drew a square!

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 25, 2010 @06:34PM (#34018836)

    Having a moldable hand that could hold a fork or swipe a credit card could drastically improve the quality of life for the tens of thousands of patients in the United States who have lost an arm.

    Why can't they use their other arm?

  • So thats how... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 25, 2010 @06:35PM (#34018850)

    The Daleks built an empire armed with a zap gun and a plunger...

  • Big Bang Theory - Howard's Robot Arm
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6Us9jIPwMI [youtube.com]

  • "Physicists have designed a robotic hand that ... can ... serve drinks"

    The future of robotics is bright indeed.

  • No more fantasies about robotic hand-jobs in the future now.

  • Novel and cool (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SoupGuru ( 723634 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @06:53PM (#34019024)
    That's pretty freaking awesome.

    The real advances toward powered flight were when we stopped trying to imitate nature and go in a different direction.
    • by cynyr ( 703126 )

      and yet we are now trying to go back towards nature with wing morphing, and those flapping drones and such.

    • Ironically, I was just reading today that the wright brothers developed their innovative control systems after observing that birds pitch the angle of their wings to control their flight.

  • The working model looks a lot like the hands they draw for Cartman

  • hgytjuedsweskloip;kloip;~!@! Translation: "hello!"
  • So, this is how the Dalek's "toilet plunger hand" works.
  • Vac man? (Score:2, Informative)

    Vac man [io9.com]! Is that you?

  • One step closer to holding that gun.
  • by Anachragnome ( 1008495 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @07:11PM (#34019168)

    An excerpt from an Investors Presentation...

    Presenter: So, as you can see, this technology is leaps and bounds more sophisticated then the current technology. The advantages for amputees cannot be overstated, the device allows for the easy grasp of such items as food utensils, telephones in time of emergenc...

    Investor: Excuse me. A question. Would an amputee be able to open a wallet?

    Presenter: Well...I, ummm. I think that might be, well, a bit difficult as the tech stands, in it's current form...but..

    Investor: What about a credit card? Could they swipe a credit card? Could they do that?

    Presenter: *sigh* Yes...I suppose they could swipe a credit card. I think that would be possible...yes.

    Investor: How about mortgage documents? Can they hold a pen?

  • Suddenly, the Daleks' plungers now make sense.
  • Now all we have to do is create a robot heart.
  • For example, how well would it deal cards?

    Still, quite impressive technology.

    • It wouldn't deal with cards unless it could grip them by the end. It also can't deal with objects larger than about half it's size. From the original paper:

      The only objects that could not be gripped were those in which the gripper membrane could not reach sufficiently around the sides, e.g., for hemispheres larger than about half the size of the gripper or for thin disks lying flat, or for very soft objects like cotton balls.

  • Now we know what the center of that Katamari is.

  • It's a vacuum picker (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @07:37PM (#34019452) Homepage

    This is very clever. Vacuum pickers have been around for most of a century; they first appeared for paper handling in printing presses But they're usually flat, or at best, they have a foam or sponge front, so they can deal with some irregularities in the object being lifted. This is the first one I've seen that can grip around something. The clever part is that the flexible vacuum bag is filled with small objects that keep the bag size almost constant even when vacuum is applied. In operation, I presume it is used by pushing the gripper into wrapping around the object.

    The usual vacuum picker problems apply. If only part of the bag (which has a pattern of small holes) is in contact with the object, the rest of the bag leaks. So the vacuum system has to extract a lot of wasted air to keep the pressure inside the system low. This limits the strength of the grip. It's also going to be noisy, probably about as noisy as the business end of a vacuum cleaner.

    This definitely has applications in industrial automation where soft objects are being handled. It may be useful for fruit picking and clothing assembly, which are still too labor-intensive.

    • by nickersonm ( 1646933 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @08:27PM (#34019828)

      It's not actually a vacuum picker: the gripping comes mostly from the change between unpacked and tightly packed granules inside the bag, somewhat like a non-Newtonian fluid. The idea is that the bag forms around an edge or partial circumference and then tightens enough to pick it up. The original paper's abstract [pnas.org] describes it better than the sciencemag article about it:

      Individual fingers are replaced by a single mass of granular material that, when pressed onto a target object, flows around it and conforms to its shape. Upon application of a vacuum the granular material contracts and hardens quickly to pinch and hold the object without requiring sensory feedback. We find that volume changes of less than 0.5% suffice to grip objects reliably and hold them with forces exceeding many times their weight. We show that the operating principle is the ability of granular materials to transition between an unjammed, deformable state and a jammed state with solid-like rigidity.

      There is sometimes an additional suction force assisting the gripper, but this is a suction-cup type action, not a vacuum pump action. The involved forces, from page two of the paper:

      We find that this strength is due to three mechanisms, all controlled by jamming, that can contribute to the gripping process: geometric constraints from interlocking between gripper and object surfaces, static friction from normal stresses at contact, and an additional suction effect, if the gripper membrane can seal off a portion of the object’s surface.

    • Use static electricity to pick up and turn cards on edge, to deal a pack of cards for example. Static electricity could be used in conjuction with the suction couldn't it?
    • If people are interested in the state of the art in industrial automation, they should watch this video [youtube.com]. It's a demo reel for ABB FlexPicker robots, used for food processing --- the sequence of a set of robots carefully arranging sausages on a conveyor belt into rows for packaging is particularly impressive. They seem to use a combination of vacuum picking and conventional manipulators depending on the foodstuff (each production line is customised, of course).

      There's lots of other ABB robotics videos, all

  • That looks like it would pinch and hurt if a male tried to use it for ... oh never mind.

    • Concave and Convex...

      Oh nevermind.


      Once the Daleks took the plunge, the rest was inevitable.

  • While this is fine for many types of many types of solid objects, it wouldn't work so well for picking up porous things like cloth, or almost anything organic such as plants or animals.

    Can it even pick up a potato chip without breaking it?

  • It does short of make you think about the Dalek suction cup.
  • Howard's Mom, 'Howard, I'm going to the store. Which peas should I get to go with the brisket!"

    Howard, "Not NOW Mom! I'm BUSY!"

    Howard's, Mom, "Just what's so IMPORTANT Mr. Smarty Pants that you have to spend all day playing video games in your room. Should you be in school?"

    Howard, "I'm NOT in School Ma!, I work at the University, and for your information I'm not playing games, I conducting very delicate research on the latest robotic technology. Now will you PLEASE leave me alone!"

  • This sounds like Doraemon's [wikipedia.org] hands. Doraemon is a robotic cat from the future in a 1970s manga.
  • So, these guys have created a gripper that is a sucker-like object at the end of a stick.

    I think the BBC may be claiming prior art [wikipedia.org].

    But it does explain how they conquered the galaxy, with only a sucker.

  • Combination of techs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by josh_nz ( 1922612 )
    I wonder if it would be possible to co-opt the tech into what are the fleshy pads of the fingers and palms in a human hand, kind of a mini version of the one described. Then you would be able to use it to increase grip but maintain the familiar hand structure; also might be able to use the measurement of the degree of vacuum to detect when to stop exerting the closing force of the 'fingers'. Would be able to help with the 'can crush as steel girder but can't pick up an egg' issue.
  • Good! When robots take over the world, I can flip them off and they can't flip back.

  • This, rather than the classic suction cup, is what should be on a Dalek's non-weapon appendage. FAR more versatile!

  • Finally (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tzot ( 834456 )

    On the one hand, it's impressive, and a good/fresh idea: flexible gripping without opposable thumbs.
    On the other hand, its use is limited in a world where opposable thumbs and fingers is the norm, and I bet that doorknobs won't be that easy to turn.
    On the gripping hand, it's something that's needed and could/would be cheap technology put in good use; I'm talking about prosthetics, not robots, obviously.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      and I bet that doorknobs won't be that easy to turn.

      Which is why governments have been busy outlawing new installations of doorknobs in favor of levers.

  • sdfb fweg WEFi dsailubasdib aisdubab;bui sadui;bdbiub;adbba;sd


  • The really good news is how less likely this new configuration is to produce a "Big Bang Theory" embarrassing situation. At least, one hopes that is the case.

  • Actually it is very interesting.

    Solving the problem of cleaning plates and putting them into a dish-washing machine would have an effect measured in billions, if not in trillions. There are some experimental robots, but they are not robust so far.

    The same about assembling orders in a warehouse. Say, taking a bottle from the shelf and putting it into a paper bag.

    It would free armies of workers from monotonous hard labor, millions of people.

  • Science can make wonder for sure!
  • What about actions that require pressing a specific area on a surface; human hands aren't meant only to grip things. This particular robotic hand shouldn't be able to type on a keyboard or perhaps operate a touchscreen type interface.
    • Why is this always mentioned? It's a ROBOT; I'm sure it can send serial data directly into a cpu...
    • Actually, it sounds exactly like it's perfect for a prodding action: dangle the appendage down then draw out the air to turn it rigid. A perfect rod for prodding. If precise control is needed, it could be designed with an overflow tip.
  • How dare the submitter imply that any of us would ever go as far as to RTFA... Despicable abomination!

    PS: The video is really nice. Though they cheat by using a slanted glass.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!