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10 robots that can give you a hand

04 Nov 2014  | Ann R. Thryft

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Editor's Note: We have highlighted robots that play sports and those that work in manufacturing in the past. This time, we give you another set of talented robots—arms and hands only.

Since our last robot hand slideshow we've been looking at robot hands and arms, and we've found an amazing variety in medicine, space and service robots, as well as R&D and assembly. Some of these hand/arm systems are based on industrial designs modified for speed or dexterity, such as the Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne research robot arm that plays catch much, much faster than you can. Many robot arms, though, are designed to more closely emulate human movements, as well as human size and shape, such as the German Aerospace Center's highly dexterous and talented Hand Arm System.

Researchers in different application areas looking at robot arm and hand abilities are beginning to cross boundaries and check out what their colleagues in other disciplines are doing. The space station's Canadarm robot arm is being adapted to the needs of surgery, for example. Electromyogram (EMG) electrodes, used in diagnosing skeletal muscle disorders or to measure biomechanics, have been applied by DEKA Integrated Solutions to produce a prosthetic arm that's received FDA approval. And a good example of STEM education for kids is also fun and has an elegant appearance: the Darth Vader robot arm. Some of these robots are commercially available, some were developed as proof-of-concept, and some are still in R&D.

Here are 10 robot hands and arms that scientists and engineers the world over have developed so far.

DEKA Arm System

(Source: DEKA Integrated Solutions)

Approved by the FDA earlier this year, the DEKA Arm System can make multiple, simultaneous, powered movements. The prosthetic arm is designed to help people with certain injuries perform more complex tasks than they could normally do with current prostheses, and allows more natural arm motions. The battery-powered system can be configured for people with limb loss at the shoulder joint, mid-upper arm or mid-lower arm, but not at the elbow or wrist joint. Its movements are controlled by electromyogram (EMG) electrodes.

Contraction of the wearer's muscles near the prosthesis' attachment to the body cause electrical activity detected by these electrodes. The EMGs send signals to a processor in the prosthesis, where they're translated into as many as 10 specific movements. In trials, the arm helped veterans perform tasks such as preparing food; feeding themselves; using zippers, keys, and locks; and brushing and combing their hair.

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