Lifelike robot hand is a bit too close to Terminator for our taste

Some of the many moves the new robotic hand can make. Gif: U. Kim et al., 2021/Gizmodo

Engineers in Korea have developed a highly dexterous robotic hand capable of crushing beer cans or gently grasping an egg.

“Of the 206 bones in the human body, 54 are in the hands, which is equivalent to a quarter of the total number of bones,” explains the opening paragraph of the new Research published today in Nature Communications. Not to mention the muscle structure that powers these bones, which is “also extremely complex,” as the paper co-authored with Uikyum Kim of Ajou University in Korea points out.

The human hand is indeed an extraordinary evolutionary feat, which makes the new robotic hand dubbed ILDA (integrated linkage-driven dexterous anthropomorphic) all the more impressive. The 20 joints allow for an impressive 15 degrees of freedom and the fingertips can apply 34 Newtons or 7.6 pounds of force. With a maximum length of 8.6 inches and a weight of 2.43 pounds, the hand is both compact and lightweight. In tests, the hand successfully crushed cans, held eggs and even used scissors to cut paper.

A cool advantage of ILDA is that it is easier to combine with many existing commercial robot arms. For roboticists, this has been a challenge because the actuators used to move robotic hands, as well as some electrical components, are often “attached in the form of a fairly large forearm,” as Kim explained in an email.

An important innovation of the new robotic hand is that all components are integrated into the hand itself. It has no external parts or modules, such as a forearm, so ILDA can be easily mounted on pre-existing commercial robotic arms.

A new clutch-driven mechanism, which Kim described as the “core technology of this research,” sets it apart from other robotic hands. This mechanism, which has never been used in robotics research before, allows each finger to have three degrees of freedom, similar to humans’ three articulating fingers, Kim said. “It is difficult to perform the movement of the medial joint independently [located near the knuckle] and the movement of the intermediate joint [the middle joint]Kim explains. The new mechanism overcomes this problem, he said.

In a series of experiments, ILDA showed a wide range of possibilities: crushing cans, pressing buttons, using tweezers to handle small objects, squeezing small balls and even using scissors to cut paper. “Interestingly, although it is a dexterous robotic hand with a high degree of freedom, it can generate a strong gripping force that can lift even a heavy 18kg object. [40 pounds]said Kim.

The device could eventually be used as a prosthetic hand, but Kim says it could also be used as an industrial robot due to its customizable design, high performance and low production costs. Looking ahead, Kim and his colleagues hope to provide ILDA with tactile perception, greater flexibility and possibly even artificial skin.

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