If we want robots to take over more tasks for humans, we need to give them more versatile hands.
Right now, many robot hands can only complete specialized tasks. Ones that are strong often have trouble with tasks that require a delicate touch, and soft hands often don’t pack much of a punch when it comes to strength.
But now, a team of researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University have created a robot hand that’s not only strong, but also soft — and it could usher in a new era in robotics.
Show of Hands
The team drew inspiration for its hand from the origami magic ball. Rather than using some sort of finger-like grippers, their cone-shaped robot hand envelopes an object and then collapses around it, much like a Venus flytrap captures its prey.
The pressure applied is enough for the hand to lift objects up to 100 times its own weight, but it can also handle far more delicate, light objects. A video released by MIT demonstrates the hand’s ability to pick up everything from a soup can to a banana.
Soft, but Strong
University of California at Santa Cruz robotics professor Michael Wehner, who was not involved in the project, praised the hand, noting its novelty in an interview with MIT News.
“This is a very clever device that uses the power of 3-D printing, a vacuum, and soft robotics to approach the problem of grasping in a whole new way,” Wehner said. “In the coming years, I could imagine seeing soft robots gentle and dexterous enough to pick a rose, yet strong enough to safely lift a hospital patient.”