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Robotic Hands Grip Without Fingers

Soulskill posted more than 3 years ago | from the please-don't-send-this-to-japan dept.

Robotics 105

sciencehabit writes "Physicists have designed a robotic hand that doesn't have fingers, yet can still serve drinks and draw pictures. The hand is a thin, rubber sack filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres. When it comes into contact with an object, a small pipe sucks air from the sack, causing it to contract and mold to the object's shape. As long as the gripper can fold about one-fourth of the object's surface, it can pick up just about any shape thrown in its path. The article includes a video of the hand in action."

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Cornelius (2, Funny)

bhcompy (1877290) | more than 3 years ago | (#34018808)

Would - you - like - some - more?

Re:Cornelius (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018912)

That's quite a neat idea for an universal gripping device. However, fingers do more than gripping, and I doubt this robotic hand would be able to be modified easily to do more than gripping. Though there is a possibility - a truly morphing hand that can assume almost any shape. Although I believe this is a long long way from now. A hand with fingers is capable of more than this one. Cool invention nevertheless.

Re:Cornelius (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019032)

Maybe robots could have multiple hands -- this one on the left for gripping things, and one on the right with one or more fingers for various actuating tasks. Voila! Pump-action shotguns and robots, what could be better...

Seriously, though, depends what you want your robot to do. If you're after some sort of domestic servant to clear the table, wash dishes (i.e. load dishes into that purpose-built dishwashing robot you already have), and maybe cook food, there's not a whole lot besides gripping going on. If you're after more technical work, fingers are likely just about as clumsy as this, and you'll just want a quick-disconnect joint so it can utilize a properly adapted soldering iron, impact wrench, or whatever directly as an end effector, with no slipping or fumbling possible. It's only when you get to the do-everything-people-do stage that the versatility of fingers becomes a clear benefit, and frankly it seems we're just as far from that on the software side as we are from a fully-configurable blob-hand in hardware.

Re:Cornelius (3, Funny)

Qzukk (229616) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019552)

So if you wanted a multi-purpose robot, you'd have three hands: on the "one" hand you'd have a single-purpose attachement, on the "other" hand you'd have fingers for manipulating things which didn't have a matching attachment, and then you'd have the "gripping" hand...

Re:Cornelius (1)

JackOfAllGeeks (1034454) | more than 3 years ago | (#34023950)

If you're trying to replicate a human hand, I think you're looking at the problem wrong. We rely on tools to really get work done -- all the hand does is grip the tool. If we can make modular "hand" attachments for our robots, we cut out the middleman in a way that biological creatures can't really do (yet).

Re:Cornelius (1)

sempir (1916194) | more than 3 years ago | (#34021846)

What the hell do you call a hand with no fingers.....other than, of course, a fingerless hand!

Wake up and smell the marbles (2, Funny)

by (1706743) (1706744) | more than 3 years ago | (#34018814)

...can still serve drinks...filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres.

I think I'll pass...I'd rather have a barista who doesn't confuse coffee with marbles.

Re:Wake up and smell the marbles (1)

Monkeedude1212 (1560403) | more than 3 years ago | (#34018908)

When you find one can you please let me know?

Coffee shops here have trouble repeating my order, let alone serving it.

Re:Wake up and smell the marbles (1)

cynyr (703126) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020244)

coffee shops around here look at me weird when I order "coffee, black no cream/sugar". I have found that this seems to be one of the easier drinks for them to make as i seem to get it 99.9% of the time.

Re:Wake up and smell the marbles (1)

SleazyRidr (1563649) | more than 3 years ago | (#34024916)

I have trouble explaining that I want coffee flavoured coffee, not vanilla or pumpkin or whatever else they're trying to sell.

Re:Wake up and smell the marbles (1)

necro81 (917438) | more than 3 years ago | (#34023180)

As long as the robot doesn't start brewing its hand to make my cup of coffee, I can be flexible.

Lost an arm? (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018836)

Having a moldable hand that could hold a fork or swipe a credit card could drastically improve the quality of life for the tens of thousands of patients in the United States who have lost an arm.

Why can't they use their other arm?

Re:Lost an arm? (2, Funny)

AfroTrance (984230) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019484)

What happens when they need to watch porn?

Re:Lost an arm? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34020224)

Steve Jobs gives them an iWank.

Re:Lost an arm? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34021014)

They should stick a vibrator up their ass.

Re:Lost an arm? (2, Informative)

gagol (583737) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020636)

One fundraiser invited me for dinner some time ago. He had no hands, only two hooks and he was capable of cooking and baking and doing basically everything I could do. His cooking was better then mine though.

So thats how... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018850)

The Daleks built an empire armed with a zap gun and a plunger...

RULE 34 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018866)


The following comments are owned by whoever posted them. We are not responsible for them in any way.
Feedback on this comment system? feedback@slashdot.org

mod 0p (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018894)

Raymond in his ho3byist dilettante would cho0se to use And suggesting on baby...don't

Well there go my dreams. (1)

Master Moose (1243274) | more than 3 years ago | (#34018928)

No more fantasies about robotic hand-jobs in the future now.

Re:Well there go my dreams. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34018956)

Fleshlight attached to a piston?

Re:Well there go my dreams. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34025768)

No more fantasies about robotic hand-jobs in the future now.

Oh, I don't know ... using two hands could work.

I refuse to stop fantasizing about robotic hand-jobs.

Novel and cool (4, Insightful)

SoupGuru (723634) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019024)

That's pretty freaking awesome.

The real advances toward powered flight were when we stopped trying to imitate nature and go in a different direction.

Re:Novel and cool (1)

cynyr (703126) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020270)

and yet we are now trying to go back towards nature with wing morphing, and those flapping drones and such.

Re:Novel and cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34021052)

Given that aircraft with flapping wings would probably be difficult to fly, fixed wing aircraft were obviously the easiest way to go, especially with the technology of the time.

At least we're making progress.

Re:Novel and cool (1)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 3 years ago | (#34023044)

Given that aircraft with flapping wings would probably be difficult to fly, fixed wing aircraft were obviously the easiest way to go, especially with the technology of the time.

The technology of the time was unsuitable because of materials technology, we couldn't make anything with remotely the same characteristics as a feathered wing. Today we could, but it would be heinously expensive.

Re:Novel and cool (1)

Burning1 (204959) | more than 3 years ago | (#34021844)

Ironically, I was just reading today that the wright brothers developed their innovative control systems after observing that birds pitch the angle of their wings to control their flight.

Re:Novel and cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34022626)

I think you are confusing ironically and co-incidentally. Have you been looking for a knife and only finding spoons lately?

Obligatory smart-alek comment (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019094)

I, for one, welcome the grip of our new robotic overlords and ask for their gentle mercy when handling my fate.

You've got to wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019152)

You've got to wonder what the porn industry will do with this invention...

Re:You've got to wonder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34020882)

Actually, I'm betting the gay community will be the first ones to find a sexual use for it. Leave it to the fags to discover what different objects can fit inside the human rectum.

Killer robots (1)

Vincman (584156) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019154)

One step closer to holding that gun.

Re:Killer robots (1)

Tordre (1447083) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019374)

No fingers no trigger pulling action... not exactly a great killer robot,

It was the one thing Frank knew... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019522)

Frank knew he couldn't use a gun to murder his wife. Ever since they could memory scan a dead brain, no one ever got away framing flesh and blood. He had to frame a robot, which meant he had to use a knife or something blunt. Why couldn't it be easy. Why couldn't those cold calculating beasts just have fingers. He'd have to stare his wife down as he murdered her. It'd be a lot easier just to gun her down. He wasn't looking forward to being able to read her eyes as the life drained from her, but he wasn't looking forward to his life being drained from him either. At least it would make what he had to do to her brain afterward seem easier.

Re:Killer robots (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34020846)

I think the optimal hunting strategy would be camouflaging as a bean bag chair.

An excerpt from... (3, Funny)

Anachragnome (1008495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019168)

An excerpt from an Investors Presentation...

Presenter: So, as you can see, this technology is leaps and bounds more sophisticated then the current technology. The advantages for amputees cannot be overstated, the device allows for the easy grasp of such items as food utensils, telephones in time of emergenc...

Investor: Excuse me. A question. Would an amputee be able to open a wallet?

Presenter: Well...I, ummm. I think that might be, well, a bit difficult as the tech stands, in it's current form...but..

Investor: What about a credit card? Could they swipe a credit card? Could they do that?

Presenter: *sigh* Yes...I suppose they could swipe a credit card. I think that would be possible...yes.

Investor: How about mortgage documents? Can they hold a pen?

Originally Demo'ed by iRobot CEO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019264)

Colin Angle (iRobot CEO) showed the "jamming gripper" [hizook.com] in his 2009 TEDMED talk as an extension of "jamming skin locomotion" (blob robot). In his talk, he showed a video of it grasping medication, keys, a water bottle, and even a dummy-patient's arm; he also demonstrated a hand-held version. It's nice to see a more formal evaluation. For those interested, there is a photo showing how it works over on Hizook.com [hizook.com]

Yeah, but can you... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019288)

But can you masturbate with it? (In proper context, if it's being used as an artificial limb.)

It can't do everything (1)

ClickOnThis (137803) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019338)

For example, how well would it deal cards?

Still, quite impressive technology.

Re:It can't do everything (1)

nickersonm (1646933) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019852)

It wouldn't deal with cards unless it could grip them by the end. It also can't deal with objects larger than about half it's size. From the original paper:

The only objects that could not be gripped were those in which the gripper membrane could not reach sufficiently around the sides, e.g., for hemispheres larger than about half the size of the gripper or for thin disks lying flat, or for very soft objects like cotton balls.

It's a vacuum picker (2, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019452)

This is very clever. Vacuum pickers have been around for most of a century; they first appeared for paper handling in printing presses But they're usually flat, or at best, they have a foam or sponge front, so they can deal with some irregularities in the object being lifted. This is the first one I've seen that can grip around something. The clever part is that the flexible vacuum bag is filled with small objects that keep the bag size almost constant even when vacuum is applied. In operation, I presume it is used by pushing the gripper into wrapping around the object.

The usual vacuum picker problems apply. If only part of the bag (which has a pattern of small holes) is in contact with the object, the rest of the bag leaks. So the vacuum system has to extract a lot of wasted air to keep the pressure inside the system low. This limits the strength of the grip. It's also going to be noisy, probably about as noisy as the business end of a vacuum cleaner.

This definitely has applications in industrial automation where soft objects are being handled. It may be useful for fruit picking and clothing assembly, which are still too labor-intensive.

Are you sure? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019612)

Are you sure there are holes in it? I thought it just sucked air out of a bag without holes that was filled with stuff to make it rigid.

Re:It's a vacuum picker (5, Informative)

nickersonm (1646933) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019828)

It's not actually a vacuum picker: the gripping comes mostly from the change between unpacked and tightly packed granules inside the bag, somewhat like a non-Newtonian fluid. The idea is that the bag forms around an edge or partial circumference and then tightens enough to pick it up. The original paper's abstract [pnas.org] describes it better than the sciencemag article about it:

Individual fingers are replaced by a single mass of granular material that, when pressed onto a target object, flows around it and conforms to its shape. Upon application of a vacuum the granular material contracts and hardens quickly to pinch and hold the object without requiring sensory feedback. We find that volume changes of less than 0.5% suffice to grip objects reliably and hold them with forces exceeding many times their weight. We show that the operating principle is the ability of granular materials to transition between an unjammed, deformable state and a jammed state with solid-like rigidity.

There is sometimes an additional suction force assisting the gripper, but this is a suction-cup type action, not a vacuum pump action. The involved forces, from page two of the paper:

We find that this strength is due to three mechanisms, all controlled by jamming, that can contribute to the gripping process: geometric constraints from interlocking between gripper and object surfaces, static friction from normal stresses at contact, and an additional suction effect, if the gripper membrane can seal off a portion of the object’s surface.

Re:It's a vacuum picker (1)

Ginsu2000 (556427) | more than 3 years ago | (#34021064)

Use static electricity to pick up and turn cards on edge, to deal a pack of cards for example. Static electricity could be used in conjuction with the suction couldn't it?

Re:It's a vacuum picker (1)

david.given (6740) | more than 3 years ago | (#34022662)

If people are interested in the state of the art in industrial automation, they should watch this video [youtube.com]. It's a demo reel for ABB FlexPicker robots, used for food processing --- the sequence of a set of robots carefully arranging sausages on a conveyor belt into rows for packaging is particularly impressive. They seem to use a combination of vacuum picking and conventional manipulators depending on the foodstuff (each production line is customised, of course).

There's lots of other ABB robotics videos, all of which are awesome --- I get the impression they're really proud of their stuff.

Cool.... but not as versatile as digits. (1)

mark-t (151149) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019618)

While this is fine for many types of many types of solid objects, it wouldn't work so well for picking up porous things like cloth, or almost anything organic such as plants or animals.

Can it even pick up a potato chip without breaking it?

key to success (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019698)

can it jerk you off? If so this will be a huge success. If not, meh.

Obligatory Howard Reference (1)

Mybrid (410232) | more than 3 years ago | (#34019714)

Howard's Mom, 'Howard, I'm going to the store. Which peas should I get to go with the brisket!"

Howard, "Not NOW Mom! I'm BUSY!"

Howard's, Mom, "Just what's so IMPORTANT Mr. Smarty Pants that you have to spend all day playing video games in your room. Should you be in school?"

Howard, "I'm NOT in School Ma!, I work at the University, and for your information I'm not playing games, I conducting very delicate research on the latest robotic technology. Now will you PLEASE leave me alone!"

Quit Teaching robots to grab things! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34019814)

G*d damn it! First they serve drinks, then they pick up around the house, then they murder everyone in their sleep! Why do people keep trying to not only put people outta jobs but also bring about the robot apocalypse. When the internet gains sentients it is gonna take over the robots and kill us all!

A sucker at the end of a stick... (1)

wowbagger (69688) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020030)

So, these guys have created a gripper that is a sucker-like object at the end of a stick.

I think the BBC may be claiming prior art [wikipedia.org].

But it does explain how they conquered the galaxy, with only a sucker.

Combination of techs (2, Interesting)

josh_nz (1922612) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020164)

I wonder if it would be possible to co-opt the tech into what are the fleshy pads of the fingers and palms in a human hand, kind of a mini version of the one described. Then you would be able to use it to increase grip but maintain the familiar hand structure; also might be able to use the measurement of the degree of vacuum to detect when to stop exerting the closing force of the 'fingers'. Would be able to help with the 'can crush as steel girder but can't pick up an egg' issue.

Tennis-Ball Cylons (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020486)

Good! When robots take over the world, I can flip them off and they can't flip back.

VaJayJay pre-order (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34020574)

Can we get one of those in a artificial VaJayJay model?

The Ultimate Dalek Appendage (1)

GJSchaller (198865) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020706)

This, rather than the classic suction cup, is what should be on a Dalek's non-weapon appendage. FAR more versatile!

How long before this thing can whack me off? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34020820)

Let's be honest. That's the only reason any of us gives a shit about robots.

Finally (2, Interesting)

tzot (834456) | more than 3 years ago | (#34020962)

On the one hand, it's impressive, and a good/fresh idea: flexible gripping without opposable thumbs.
On the other hand, its use is limited in a world where opposable thumbs and fingers is the norm, and I bet that doorknobs won't be that easy to turn.
On the gripping hand, it's something that's needed and could/would be cheap technology put in good use; I'm talking about prosthetics, not robots, obviously.

Re:Finally (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 3 years ago | (#34026298)

and I bet that doorknobs won't be that easy to turn.

Which is why governments have been busy outlawing new installations of doorknobs in favor of levers.

Outlook Add Ins (0, Offtopic)

johanna2010 (1928806) | more than 3 years ago | (#34021996)

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Obviously not running Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34022136)

as it has no finger command.

Big bang... (1)

pablo_max (626328) | more than 3 years ago | (#34022674)

The really good news is how less likely this new configuration is to produce a "Big Bang Theory" embarrassing situation. At least, one hopes that is the case.

Re:Big bang... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34024128)

That was my first thought, too. The success of this device will depend on how good it feels on the average man's private parts.

It can draw but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34023576)

Can it draw a Liger?

warehouse & dish-washing problems (1)

Max_W (812974) | more than 3 years ago | (#34023630)

Actually it is very interesting.

Solving the problem of cleaning plates and putting them into a dish-washing machine would have an effect measured in billions, if not in trillions. There are some experimental robots, but they are not robust so far.

The same about assembling orders in a warehouse. Say, taking a bottle from the shelf and putting it into a paper bag.

It would free armies of workers from monotonous hard labor, millions of people.

prodding action? (1)

red crab (1044734) | more than 3 years ago | (#34024184)

What about actions that require pressing a specific area on a surface; human hands aren't meant only to grip things. This particular robotic hand shouldn't be able to type on a keyboard or perhaps operate a touchscreen type interface.

Re:prodding action? (1)

mujadaddy (1238164) | more than 3 years ago | (#34024838)

Why is this always mentioned? It's a ROBOT; I'm sure it can send serial data directly into a cpu...
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