HDT's MK2 Manipulators Can Outfit PackBots with Arms and Hands

HDT's new manipulation system gives bomb disposal robots nearly the same strength, speed, and dexterity as their human operators

2 min read
HDT's MK2 Manipulators Can Outfit PackBots with Arms and Hands

HDT Global has just introduced some new robotic limbs to give explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) robots like PackBots and Talons [pictured above] a helping hand (or two) when it comes to complex and delicate tasks like defusing bombs. This is a very good idea, since just poking high explosives with a simple gripper doesn't always work outthe way everyone would like.

The MK2 limbs can be mounted either singly or as a dual-arm torso on top of an EOD robot, replacing the much simpler open/close gripper systems. Instead of grippers, MK2 comes with actual jointed arms and hands with 4 degrees of freedom and an opposable thumb. The idea is to make the system similar enough to human arms and hands, so that an operator can do just about everything they'd want to do with their own arms and hands while still staying as far away from the sorts of things that sensible people stay far away from. Like, you know, bombs.

The full torso offers a total of 27 degrees of freedom in a package that only weighs 23 kilograms (51 pounds). And these arms are more muscular than they look: together, they can lift 50 kilograms (110 pounds) with approximately the same speed as a human, and they're dexterous enough to unzip backpacks, disassemble complex devices, and even use tools: 

While there's no doubt that the HDT arm (or arms) are more versatile than the standard arms that come with Talon robots or PackBots, my guess is that HDT's hardware is also significantly more expensive, as well as less durable. It's ruggedized and watertight, of course, but it's just a more complex system overall, which means more things that can go wrong (and that may apply not only to the robot arm itself, but the controller used by the operator as well). These sorts of things are always trade-offs, though, and considering just how much more the MK2 arms are capable of, it seems likely that they'll find a place in our robot arsenal doing something useful: namely, risking getting blown up so that we don't have to.

[ HDT Global ]

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A photograph of a young woman with brown eyes and neck length hair dyed rose gold sits at a white table. In one hand she holds a carbon fiber robotic arm and hand. Her other arm ends near her elbow. Her short sleeve shirt has a pattern on it of illustrated hands.

The author, Britt Young, holding her Ottobock bebionic bionic arm.

Gabriela Hasbun. Makeup: Maria Nguyen for MAC cosmetics; Hair: Joan Laqui for Living Proof

In Jules Verne’s 1865 novel From the Earth to the Moon, members of the fictitious Baltimore Gun Club, all disabled Civil War veterans, restlessly search for a new enemy to conquer. They had spent the war innovating new, deadlier weaponry. By the war’s end, with “not quite one arm between four persons, and exactly two legs between six,” these self-taught amputee-weaponsmiths decide to repurpose their skills toward a new projectile: a rocket ship.

The story of the Baltimore Gun Club propelling themselves to the moon is about the extraordinary masculine power of the veteran, who doesn’t simply “overcome” his disability; he derives power and ambition from it. Their “crutches, wooden legs, artificial arms, steel hooks, caoutchouc [rubber] jaws, silver craniums [and] platinum noses” don’t play leading roles in their personalities—they are merely tools on their bodies. These piecemeal men are unlikely crusaders of invention with an even more unlikely mission. And yet who better to design the next great leap in technology than men remade by technology themselves?

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