Sandia National Labs Gives Roboticists a Hand

Sandia's new robotic hand offers all the degrees of freedom you want at 10% of the cost

2 min read
Sandia National Labs Gives Roboticists a Hand

Sandia National Labs is one of those secret places that does a lot of cool stuff with robots, but that we don't always get to hear about. They were initially responsible for that jumping robot as well as nine other robots that the Smithsonian snapped up a while back, and as part of DARPA's ARM program, Sandia has partnered with Stanford to create a dexterous robot hand on the cheap.

As Sandia puts it, "the Sandia Hand addresses challenges that have prevented widespread adoption of other robotic hands, such as cost, durability, dexterity, and modularity." The modularity and dexterity are easy to see in the video (you can even attach other tools, like screwdrivers or flashlights or laser cannons), and the modular design also makes the hand durable, since the fingers will just fall off if something smacks into them. If this happens, don't panic! As principle investigator Curt Salisbury explains, "if a finger pops off, the robot can actually pick it up with the remaining fingers, move into position and resocket the finger by itself.” Neat trick. Also, the "skin" of the hand is designed to mimic the flexibility of human tissue, providing some shock absorption and allowing the hand to more firmly grasp objects.

So that's all good stuff, but the cost bit is where the hand really comes through: in low volume production, the Sandia Hand should only cost about $10,000. Total. Fingers included. For the record, Sandia's press release says that's about 90% less than other commercially available robot hands with similar independently actuated degrees of freedom. Yes, that means that you can buy ten hands when you might have only been able to afford one. Ten. Just imagine what kind of robot you could build with TEN HANDS! Like, you could build a robotic octopus with hands on all of its tentacles and then still add on TWO EXTRA HANDS to make it a DECAPUS! WOW! Thank you, Sandia, for making such things possible.

[ Sandia Labs ]

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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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