Robots aren’t only getting smarter nowadays–they’re also getting stronger. Researchers have now created a robot hand that can withstand hammer hits and other hard blows.
Led by Markus Grebenstein, the researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) created a robot hand that functions virtually as well as a human’s appendage. The dexterous hand has 19 degrees of freedom–considering that the human hand has 20 degrees of freedom, that’s pretty good. The hand’s delicate movements are controlled by 38 tendons, each linked to a separate motor on the forearm. From IEEE Spectrum:
Another key element in the DLR design is a spring mechanism connected to each tendon. These springs … give the tendons, which are made from a super strong synthetic fiber called Dyneema, more elasticity, allowing the fingers to absorb and release energy, like our own hands do. This capability is key for achieving robustness and for mimicking the kinematic, dynamic, and force properties of the human hand.
The tendons, when tensed, are what allow the hand to withstand hits. But just how strong of a hit can it endure? The hand remained resilient after receiving a blow of 66 G’s administered by a baseball bat. Researchers are pleased with the outcome and see it as a big step towards more widespread use of service robots. As IEEE Spectrum reports:
“If every time a robot bumps its hand, the hand gets damaged, we’ll have a big problem deploying service robots in the real world,” Grebenstein says.
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Along with the rest of the criteria that make for a good astronaut–some heavy degrees in science or technology, a tolerance for cramped spaces and freeze-dried food–let’s add another one. The ideal astronaut should have narrow hands to prevent his or her fingernails from falling off.
National Geographic reports that the design of astronauts’ space suit gloves can lead to hand and finger injuries, including an icky condition called fingernail delamination in which the nail completely detaches from the nailbed. While missing nails do grow back in time, if the nail falls off in the middle of a spacewalk it can snag inside the glove, and moisture inside the glove can lead to bacterial or fungal infections in the exposed nailbed. MIT astronautics professor Dava Newman told National Geographic that astronauts take this medical prospect seriously:
For now, the only solutions are to apply protective dressings, keep nails trimmed short—or do some extreme preventative maintenance. “I have heard of a couple people who’ve removed their fingernails in advance of an EVA,” Newman said.