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Robot Finger Does What Your Finger Can't

These robot fingers add entirely new axes of motion to the traditional robotic gripper

2 min read
Robot Finger Does What Your Finger Can't

The thing (well, one of the things) we love about robots is that they can be designed to do things that humans can't. It's not just that they can do human-y things better—it's that they can take a piece of our selves (like fingers) and improve on them to enable totally new capabilities. Osaka University's Omni-Finger is just such a robot, giving artificial fingers an entirely new dimension.

While the prototype in this vid just has one Omni-Finger, the final concept will include three of them (as in the illustration below). This will enable robots to arbitrarily alter the orientation of objects that they've grasped without having to set the object down, manipulate it, and re-grasp it, making grasping tasks as a whole easier and much more efficient. The only problem remaining is to figure out how to keep the fingers in contact with an irregular object as the fingers move it around, but the researchers are working on some creative ideas involving surrounding the fingers with deformable sacks filled with some sort of viscous fluid.

Robotic Omni-Finger

Just imagine for a second what's going to happen a short time in the future when robots start playing baseball with hands like these. Talk about a curveball! Maybe what'll happen is that in order to get a gig as a pitcher, humans will need to have their real fingers surgically replaced with Omni-Fingers in order to have any hope of keeping up with the robots.

Robotic Finger Mechanism Equipped Omnidirectional Driving Roller with Two Active Rotational Axes, by Kenjiro Tadakuma, Riichiro Tadakuma, Mitsuru Higashimori, and Makoto Kaneko from Osaka University in Japan was presented last week at the 2012 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation in St. Paul, Minn.

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The Bionic-Hand Arms Race

The prosthetics industry is too focused on high-tech limbs that are complicated, costly, and often impractical

12 min read
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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
DarkGray

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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