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DLR’s New Hand-Arm System Is The Envy Of Robots Everywhere

Back when we got our first look at the German Aerospace Center’s new biped, we also saw computer renderings of a new hand-arm system.  The hand is roughly the same size as an adult’s, its five fingers attached to 38 wires made of Dyneema (a super strong synthetic fiber), and individually actuated by motors hidden in the forearm.  All those tendons equate to 19 degrees of freedom, closely matching a real human hand, and their stiffness can be relaxed and intensified to absorb impacts.  What makes this particular robot appendage so impressive is its resiliency to major external forces, like being hit with a hammer or a baseball bat (a 66 G impact).

Where other robot hands are delicate and prone to breakage, this one seems ready for the day-to-day wear and tear that comes with the territory.  “If every time a robot bumps its hand, the hand gets damaged, we’ll have a big problem deploying service robots in the real world,” explains Markus Grebenstein, the hand’s lead designer.  Of course with a production cost of 70,000 ~ 100,000 euros ($96,000 ~ $137,000 USD) each, it will be some time before this sort of technology makes its way into just any old robot.  For now the hand-arm system will be used to research manipulation, including handling objects with both hands.

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Interestingly, the hand can store and release energy using its built-in springs, allowing the hand to snap its fingers (a difficult trick for a robot).  Furthermore, the hand is able to catch a ball from several meters, absorbing the impact where DLR’s previous robot hand (that belonging to Justin) would break.

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[source: DLR (EN)] via [IEEE Spectrum]