British firm Shadow Robot has designed a prosthetic hand that can analyse the shape of an object and how best to pick it up.
It is called the Dexterous Hand, and it includes finger-tip mounted pressure sensors so it can judge how much force is needed when touching something. The developers claim it is a real leap forward in artificial intelligence.
Rich Walker, Shadow Robot’s Managing Director, explained: “What we’ve tried to do is put intelligence into the robot hand, and that means sensing. So we’re adding sensors on the fingertips that can understand how the robot is touching the world and interacting with it. And we’re adding 3D cameras so the robot can see things around it and be able to work out how to grasp and manipulate them.”
The 3D depth-sensing cameras let the Dexterous Hand examine an object. The internal software then arranges the fingers for optimal grip, while touch sensors monitor its stability. The software is open source.
Rich Walker says it has been well received: “What we’ve found really exciting is we have customers who are using this hand to develop next-generation prosthetics by looking at, for example, what does a brain-computer interface look like to control a robot hand? How do you get that to work? We’re exploring applications of the hand in areas where you’d really like to put a person but can’t. And that might be a search and rescue scenario where you send a robot in somewhere and now you want to lift something up, move something out of the way.”
Researchers say that future is almost here. A robot that can literally get to grips with the world presents possibilities previously reserved for science-fiction.