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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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  • 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.

  • Combination of techs (Score:2, Interesting)

    by josh_nz ( 1922612 ) on Monday October 25, 2010 @09:12PM (#34020164)
    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.
  • Finally (Score:2, Interesting)

    by tzot ( 834456 ) <> on Monday October 25, 2010 @11:30PM (#34020962) Homepage

    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.

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