This is Nigel Ackland, and he's pouring himself a beer. With his robot hand.
Nigel's using one of the new bebionic3 robot hands, which were just released a month or two ago. The specs on this thing aren't quite going to bring you over to the dark side, but they're quite impressive:
- Individual Motors in each finger allow you to move the hand and grip in a natural, coordinated way. The motors are positioned to optimize weight distribution, making the hand feel lighter and more comfortable.
- Powerful microprocessors continuously monitor the position of each finger, giving you precise, reliable control over hand movements.
- 14 Selectable grip patterns and hand positions enable you to perform a huge number of everyday activities with ease.
- Proportional Speed Control gives you precision control over delicate tasks, so you can pick up an egg or hold a polystyrene cup as easily as crushing an empty can.
- Bebalance software and wireless technology located within the bebionic3 myoelectric hand makes it easy to customize the functions to suit your preferences and lifestyle.
- Auto grip means no more accidents, as bebionic3 automatically senses when a gripped item is slipping and adjusts the grip to secure it.
- Durable construction and advanced materials makes bebionic3 strong enough to handle up to 45kg – so you can confidently use the hand to carry heavy objects, and push yourself up from a seated position.
You can make a robotic arm and hand system as fancy as you want, but it has to be comfortable, lightweight, and easy to control or nobody is going to use it. The bebionic3 weighs just 550 grams (for the record, your hand and forearm weighs about 2.3% of your body weight), and as you can see in the vid, with a little bit of practice it's controllable with muscle movements that are small and precise enough that the arm appears to just do what the user wants it to.
What we're really excited about is the day (and it's coming!) when things like this don't even make the news because it's going on all the time. And at some point, users of robotic prosthetics will find themselves being able to take advantage of more capabilities than you'd find in a biological arm, like increased strength, increased durability, a wrist that can rotate infinitely, or perhaps the addition of an extra finger or two that includes some interchangeable tooling. The short term focus, of course, should be on making it easier for people with disabilities to do what they want to do, but in the future of cybernetics there's the potential for a wide variety of improvements to individual humans, in the style of Deus Ex, Star Trek, Star Wars, iRobot, and a thousand other imagined sci-fi worlds become real.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.