Low cost robotic hand can disable IEDs
Sandia National Laboratories has developed a low cost robotic hand that can be used to disarm improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
Designed to address the challenges that have previously prevented widespread adoption of other robotic hands, such as cost, durability, dexterity and modularity, the Sandia Hand is modular, so that different types of fingers can be attached with magnets and quickly plugged into the hand frame.
The operator has the option to quickly and easily attach additional fingers or other tools, such as torches, screwdrivers or cameras. Modularity also gives the Sandia Hand a unique durability. The fingers are designed to fall off should the operator accidentally run the hand into a wall or another object.
"Rather than breaking the hand, this configuration allows the user to recover very quickly, and fingers can easily be put back in their sockets," said principal investigator Curt Salisbury. "In addition, if a finger pops off, the robot can actually pick it up with the remaining fingers, move into position and re-socket the finger by itself."
The operator controls the robot with a glove, and the lifelike design allows even first-time users to manipulate the robot easily. The robot's tough outer skin covers a gel-like layer to mimic human tissue, giving the Sandia Hand the additional advantage of securely grabbing and manipulating objects, just like a human hand.
Salisbury believes that using the robotic hand to disable IEDs might also lead investigators to the bomb makers themselves. Often, bombs are disarmed simply by blowing them up. While effective, that destroys evidence and presents a challenge to investigators trying to catch the bomb maker. A robotic hand that can handle the delicate disarming operation while preserving the evidence could lead to more arrests, and fewer bombs.
Sandia partnered with researchers at Stanford University to develop the hardware and worked with consulting firm LUNAR to drive costs down. In current commercially available robotic hands, each independently actuated degree of freedom costs roughly $10,000. The Sandia Hand has 12 degrees of freedom and is estimated to retail for about $800 per degree of freedom, $10,000 total.
"This 90% cost reduction is really a breakthrough," said Salisbury. "At this price point, the Sandia Hand has the potential to be a disruptive technology. Computers, calculators and mobile phones became part of daily life and drastically changed how we do things when the price became affordable. This hand has the same potential, especially given that high volume production can further reduce the cost."
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