"You can't break up with me, I've got Hand."
October 26, 2010 12:53 PM   Subscribe

Get a grip on this. "It turns out that opposable thumbs aren't critical for getting a good grip. Neither are fingers. Scientists have created a robotic arm that can do everything from serve drinks to draw pictures even though it has no digits. Their robotic hand, which they describe online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a thin rubber sack filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres. When this hand comes in contact with an object, a small pipe sucks air from the sack, causing it to contract and mold to the object's shape. The contraction is small—a mere 1% change in volume–but was enough to grab most objects the researchers tested." Inside the balloon hand. The robotic mitt. Via: Sciencemag.org
posted by Fizz (49 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
If they come up with a laser shaped like a kitchen whisk too, I'm going to be worried.
posted by weston at 12:58 PM on October 26, 2010 [5 favorites]


I'm oddly disappointed that it never picked up the mug by the handle. Pretty cool though.
posted by ghharr at 12:59 PM on October 26, 2010


They misspelled "d4", though.
posted by cortex at 1:00 PM on October 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


I don't know why, but I always find myself rooting for the robots in these videos. Really, like enthusiastically excited that they might drop the little tetrahedron on the cup.

Anyhow, this sure is cool. I've often wondered why there isn't more sucking in nature. (Of course, I mean using lower pressure to your advantage, since there is no negative pressure.)
posted by poe at 1:01 PM on October 26, 2010


This is neat and probably useful, but fingers and thumbs are more important for dexterity than grip. I can think of lots of ways to grip things that don't involve fingers.
posted by empath at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2010


It's not really grabbing or gripping...it's just forming a suction. Cool, but not as cool as the original description made it seem -- it looks like a constant suction is needed for the thing to keep holding onto whatever it's picking up.

It's interesting because it can grip a lot of different shapes, but not particularly a revolution over other suction-based robots....
posted by schmod at 1:02 PM on October 26, 2010


In the video it sounds like it uses suction throughout the duration of the various demonstrations. Is that right? Is it just a new way of using suction then?

Or is the suction just used to wrap the "hand" around contours in the objects that allow them to be lifted (like cinching a collar around the thin neck of a soda bottle)?
posted by oddman at 1:03 PM on October 26, 2010


Looks more like an engulfer/suction cup than a gripper, but pretty neat otherwise.
posted by maudlin at 1:04 PM on October 26, 2010


Balloon hand? Not creative enough.

Cremaster claw.
posted by hanoixan at 1:05 PM on October 26, 2010


I still prefer my hands.
posted by reductiondesign at 1:06 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


I don't think it is using the suction to to grab the object but suction to make the rubber ball squeeze the object. It could probably be done magnetically or mechanically too.
posted by VTX at 1:09 PM on October 26, 2010


This is what is called brilliant engineering, truly outstanding stuff.
posted by dbiedny at 1:12 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Great. A new way for our inevitable evil giant robot masters to crush puny humans. Thanks, science.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:15 PM on October 26, 2010


schmod: The thing is, the suction is contained entirely within the robot. All the surface of the object lifted feels is contact pressure from a surface. That's fairly ingenious I think.
posted by JHarris at 1:16 PM on October 26, 2010


They should study octopi. Watch this one open a bottle. Let's see the balloon hand do that.
posted by beagle at 1:18 PM on October 26, 2010


I wonder if this is an offshot of research into this blob bot
posted by zeoslap at 1:21 PM on October 26, 2010


They should study octopi. Watch this one open a bottle. Let's see the balloon hand do that.

I think they're looking for simple ways to manipulate objects.
posted by Edgewise at 1:24 PM on October 26, 2010


I think they're looking for simple ways to manipulate objects.


Exactly. I don't even know what kind of glue you'd need to stick an octopus on the end of that robot arm.
posted by found missing at 1:26 PM on October 26, 2010 [7 favorites]


The device does not use suction directly, the vacuum reshapes the balloon.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 1:28 PM on October 26, 2010


I think they're looking for simple ways to manipulate objects.
posted by Edgewise at 4:24 PM on October 26


"Hey, grad student, pick up that cup. Manipulate it. Now get the fuck out. GET OUT!"
posted by Pastabagel at 1:30 PM on October 26, 2010 [9 favorites]


Doesn't look like it would be much good at the most important thing I do with my own hands.

Typing. What did you think I meant?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 1:34 PM on October 26, 2010 [2 favorites]


Exactly. I don't even know what kind of glue you'd need to stick an octopus on the end of that robot arm.

Glue? Pff! Hose clamps!
posted by aubilenon at 1:38 PM on October 26, 2010


...a small pipe sucks air from the sack, causing it to contract and mold to the object's shape.

We've used that technology in the OR for ages.
posted by TedW at 1:46 PM on October 26, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think they're looking for simple ways to manipulate objects.

If they can train dogs for blind people, they can sure as shit train octopi for the armless.
posted by XQUZYPHYR at 1:49 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


*Looks at hand*

*Looks at robot grippy arm thingy*


All of this has happened before and will --

*Looks back at hand, flexes fingers, plays a bit of piano, swings from a tree branch*

*Looks at robot grippy arm thing*


Nevermind.
posted by Panjandrum at 1:50 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


Impressive - looks potentially really useful. Obviously it's not going to play the piano, or throw accurately (though maybe...?).

Interesting to consider whether this is metaphorically a 'wheel'. There aren't any really good examples of a wheel in biology (OK, some sort-of exceptions). Is this thing, with its bag of tiny bits, another example of something that couldn't easily be evolved - or are there some slugs or something that grip like this?
posted by Segundus at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2010


schmod wrote "not particularly a revolution over other suction-based robots...."

Am I the only one afraid to click that link? "Suction based robots" doesn't sound especially SFW.
posted by caution live frogs at 1:53 PM on October 26, 2010


Am I the only one afraid to click that link?

It's as SFW as food automation. Which just makes me hungry and sleepy, and is decidedly not safe for work.
posted by hanoixan at 2:04 PM on October 26, 2010


Can it put a sock on a dowel? So to speak?
posted by pracowity at 2:05 PM on October 26, 2010


Interesting. It's basically like a vacuum splint, but with more "stuff" inside it. I think it's pretty clever, although at the same time given how long vac splints have existed and been on the market, I'm surprised it hasn't been investigated and used this way before.
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:30 PM on October 26, 2010


I wonder how it would do at picking up something porous + larger than the balloon hand, like a kitchen sponge. It managed to pick up the foam ear plug but that was so small that the entire plug could be enclosed by the balloon which would maintain suction.

A better design might have two or three stubby fingers, much like the tip of an African elephant's trunk, so when suction was applied the fingers pinch in.
posted by jamaro at 2:36 PM on October 26, 2010


A bit more of it here, the effector is about 15 minutes in.
posted by Skorgu at 2:49 PM on October 26, 2010


IANARobotics Engineer but I believe one of the big advantages to this kind of manipulator isn't so much that it's massively more effective than a traditional hand/gripper type setup but that it's 80% as good and way way cheaper. I.e. it's compliant and safe to use with delicate objects (egg) which takes real effort to build into a rigid manipulator.
posted by Skorgu at 2:52 PM on October 26, 2010


Exactly. I don't even know what kind of glue you'd need to stick an octopus on the end of that robot arm.

Some batter, Old Bay, and a deep fryer?

doesn't eat octopi, please don't hurt me
posted by Ella Fynoe at 3:27 PM on October 26, 2010



I wonder how it would do at picking up something porous + larger than the balloon hand, like a kitchen sponge. It managed to pick up the foam ear plug but that was so small that the entire plug could be enclosed by the balloon which would maintain suction.


It also picked up a 1.5 lb shock, which would be hard to hold a vacuum against as its shape is somewhat irregular with plenty of space for air. This doesn't use suction to hold objects, it uses suction to solidify the shape of the balloon around the object it's grasping.
posted by polyhedron at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


want
posted by Sreiny at 3:44 PM on October 26, 2010


I can't wait to replace these stupid ape claws with coffe grounds and a vacuum cleaner!
posted by cmoj at 4:06 PM on October 26, 2010


This is all well and good, but if the consumer-level robots of the future are going to be giving me handjobs, thumbs will definitely be required.
posted by Ritchie at 6:09 PM on October 26, 2010


Nifty. Except...

Writing was actually drawing.

And that thing will never cradle the face of someone it loves.
posted by notyou at 6:46 PM on October 26, 2010


Back when I used to work at a semiconductor testing facility, we had a lot of robots that worked through suction. Not this neat kind of indirect suction, though. They had little suction cups and a vacuum. They certainly sucked. It was so easy for the delicate balance that made them work to be disturbed through wear, or poor building air pressure, or dust on the suction cup, or misalignment, or for the arm to just move too fast and hurl formerly-good audio chips at the guy at the next station like some kind of geeky, hyperactive pitching machine.

I'm not sure whether I would want to work in a factory that used these.
posted by Xezlec at 6:52 PM on October 26, 2010


And that thing will never cradle the face of someone it loves.

I don't think we want those things to reproduce. Feature, not bug.
posted by maudlin at 7:13 PM on October 26, 2010


What's reproduction* got to do with love, maudlin?

-------------
*Especially mechanical reproduction.
posted by notyou at 8:20 PM on October 26, 2010


notyou: "Writing was actually drawing."

Better a square than the Robot Declaration of Independence.
posted by pwnguin at 8:32 PM on October 26, 2010


Somewhere else I read the mechanism described as changing the flow characteristics of the coffee grounds: they flow like a liquid when there is no vacuum so it can conform. Then the vacuum locks the granules together and also gives it a gripping action. If I had paid more attention to the rock-like consistency of coffee vacuum packed in foil (and how it relaxes when you open the package), I might have invented this.
posted by 445supermag at 9:09 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


notyou, let's just hope that Proteus never goes emo.
posted by maudlin at 10:18 PM on October 26, 2010


"Hey, grad student, pick up that cup. Manipulate it. Now get the fuck out. GET OUT!"

I once had a prof who swore he programmed in a very high level language called "grad student".
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:25 PM on October 26, 2010


And that thing will never cradle the face of someone it loves.

But it will make a hell of a fister and be able to retrieve any lost objects. Someone will cradle its face with love.
posted by pracowity at 11:58 PM on October 26, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's amazing. And for some reason it reminds me about the Sudowoodo, the pokemon with hands exactly like that! :P
posted by TrinsicWS at 8:33 AM on October 27, 2010


Haha, watching the videos remind me of the discovery channel show I saw few months ago about a group of Haward University students creating robot that could help rescue people during earthquakes.
posted by MikeJc at 8:02 AM on November 14, 2010


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