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Video: Flexible Robot Hands Get Cheaper
9/21/2012

Sandia National Laboratories has created a low-cost, highly dexterous robotic hand to aid soldiers in disarming improvised explosive devices. (Source: Randy Montoya/Sandia National Labs)
Sandia National Laboratories has created a low-cost, highly dexterous robotic hand
to aid soldiers in disarming improvised explosive devices.
(Source: Randy Montoya/Sandia National Labs)

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Beth Stackpole
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Making progress
Beth Stackpole   9/21/2012 7:43:38 AM
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Definitely looks like we're heading into some serious improvements in terms of the dexterity and flexibility of robotic hand movements. All good for those tasks that require precision and fluidity of movement. I'm stuck on the discussion about the "fingers" breaking, however. As these robots are built and marketed to be more human-like, those human-like descriptions become interchangeable and in cases like this, is can be jarring!

naperlou
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What is different
naperlou   9/21/2012 10:37:03 AM
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Ann, you talk about cost of most robotic hands being $10K and this one being $800.  I wonder, what is the difference?  Are those hands fully autonomous, or is it something else?  Don't get me wrong, this is a very interesting and seemingly useful development.  It is always interesting to know what was done differently to get this much cost advantage.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What is different
Ann R. Thryft   9/21/2012 12:38:13 PM
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Lou, it looks to me like the key means of driving down costs were making an effort to do so. Since these are aimed at the military, costs had to be low, and there was a concerted effort to reach that goal. As we state in the article, this was the effort in partnership with the consulting firm LUNAR to "select motors, research skin-simulating materials, perform cost-of-goods and cost reduction analyses, and research design-for-manufacturing considerations." What I'm curious about is the opposite: if this can be done by a concerted effort, why the heck have they been so expensive before? My guess is that earlier robotic hands were developed either for fundamental research, or for very high-end low-volume uses.

mrdon
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Other applicatons for Flexible Robot Hands
mrdon   9/21/2012 2:13:25 PM
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Ann, Great article!  I see variety of applications for which the Sandia Hand can be used in addition to bomb detonation. One application I see this hand being quite useful is in working with hazardous chemicals. A scientist will not need the protective gear when handling hazardous chemicals, the Sandia Hand could be used. The scientist can work remotely and manipulate the chemicals using the gloves to control the handling process. Also, the International Space station can make outside repairs with these flexible hands as well.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Other applicatons for Flexible Robot Hands
Ann R. Thryft   9/21/2012 2:21:21 PM
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mrdon, I think those are interesting apps you mention. Of course, the materials would have to be designed specifically for use in those specialized environments: with hazardous chemicals and for the vacuum of space. Interestingly, the GM Robo-Glove my colleague Chuck Murray wrote about earlier this year http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=240915 was derived from NASA's humanoid space robot Robonaut 2, which is up in the space station and one of whose tasks will be conducting EVA (extra-vehicular activity) dangerous operations.

TJ McDermott
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Feedback
TJ McDermott   9/21/2012 3:41:16 PM
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Holy cow, this is impressive!  From the detachable fingers, to the amazing dexterity, this is a great development.  I was impressed right up to the key pick-up, after that I was amazed.

The key pickup does hightlight one aspect that will require some more effort - feedback.  Trying to pick up something without having the force feedback creates a sense of separation and isolation.  Getting pressure feedback from the fingers to the operator's glove interface is the next big challenge.

 

Scott Orlosky
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Re: Other applicatons for Flexible Robot Hands
Scott Orlosky   9/22/2012 10:42:01 PM
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This is a pretty neat development.  What a clever approach to a robotic hand design.  Interesting that this came out of Darpa - it seems that all the financing for robotic development is coming out of the government these days.

NadineJ
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Re: What is different
NadineJ   9/23/2012 11:09:15 AM
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From what I can see in the video, weight is an issue for this hand.  The receiver of the princess phone was picked up but not the base.  Even the case, which seemed heavy, was almost dragged by the handle.  The ability to carry heavier weight may be a key difference for price.

Magnetic attachments for the fingers are a great example of design thinking.  I wonder how they'll solve the problem of the fingers flipping back (very noticeable in the video).

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Other applicatons for Flexible Robot Hands
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 12:36:15 PM
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Scott, I've also noticed how much robotics funding is coming from DARPA and various branches of the US military. A bit unnerving, perhaps, but still intriguing to see what they're coming up with.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: What is different
Ann R. Thryft   9/24/2012 12:37:07 PM
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Nadine, I agree about the weight issue, especially since the fingers are attached magnetically. The fingers' ability to fall off instead of break means--that they can fall off. OTOH, how much weight they will be dealing with when performing delicate IED disarming tasks may be a moot point. Their design seems to be aimed more at delicately picking up small objects, like the key, than at dealing with weight.

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