US Defense Department's Research Arm Develops Innovative Three-Fingered Robot Hand
May 3, 2013

US Defense Department’s Research Arm Develops Innovative Three-Fingered Robot Hand

WATCH VIDEO: [DARPA's Three-Fingered Robot Hand]

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

DARPA is showing off their latest advancement in robotic technology, and in doing so, bringing a robotically-controlled world ever closer to reality.

The Autonomous Robotic Manipulation project (or ARM) and iRobot have now created a three-fingered robot hand which goes beyond anything else a robotic appendage has thus far been able to do. DARPA and iRobot get straight to the point in their demonstration video (link above), showing the ARM robotic hand pick up a tiny ball bearing, an ID card lying flat on a table, and even take a beating from a baseball bat.

The ARM hand is even capable of grasping up to 50 pounds and turning a key, making this the most agile robotic hand yet.

DARPA´s ARM program is focused on creating sophisticated, dexterous and, most of all, inexpensively-built robotic hands. Current robot hands also feature a three finger and palm orientation, a layout which DARPA claims works well so long as the human operator is skilled enough to guide the robot. Existing hands cost somewhere in the $50,000 price range a piece, according to DARPA. The new hand being shown off by the ARM team costs significantly less – about $3,000 a piece when produced in bulk – and even improves on the dexterity of current robotic hands.

Mark Claffee, a principal robotics engineer at iRobot told Shoshana Davis of CBS News that using a variety of building materials and methods helped the team keep costs low without sacrificing durability.

"The ARM-H hand is constructed using a variety of methods, including 3D printing, custom plastic and rubber molding, as well as classical machining techniques each to construct separate parts of the hand," said Claffee in an email to CBS News.

"As robots become more prevalent in multiple industries, however, one could imagine that lower cost, durable and effective robot hands could be useful for several applications in the future," he explained.

According to the demonstration video, this new hand could prove useful to many different types of industry. For instance, the robot hand is seen orienting itself to find screwdrivers, wallets and other items placed in random areas on a table, all while a curiously sensual song plays in the background.

To show off the durability of the fingers, the engineers place a baseball in its grasp and have a batter step up to the plate and give a swing. The slow motion video shows these fingers being knocked down and bent to their limit, yet snapping back almost immediately, still able to open and close normally.

The hand is then seen grasping a 50-pound weight as an engineer helps the arm lift. These feats are certainly impressive, but in a bit of meta-functionality, the hand is later shown off picking up a pair of tweezers, then picking up a smaller tool with the tweezers. As noted by a commenter on YouTube, "it´s a tool using a tool using a tool, and its an impactful demonstration."

As Claffee noted, this hand could easily be used in industrial applications, but DARPA has other plans for the new hand, such as diffusing bombs and assisting in life saving operations.

Other DARPA robots are being developed to perform some treacherous tasks which would otherwise endanger a human life. Earlier this year, Carnegie Mellon University´s National Robotics Engineering Center (NREC) submitted a robotic chimpanzee to DARPA´s Robotics Challenge. Just like its real-life counterpart, the CHIMP (or CMU highly intelligent mobile platform) is able to scurry up trees and navigate rocky terrain. Over all, this robot and many others are meant to save human lives, and if the CHIMP is ever paired with the new ARM hand, the resulting creature could be the very first in a long line of robot overlords.

Image Below: A video still of DARPA's latest robot arm using a key to open a door. Credit: DARPA / iRobot