April 24, 2012      

NewScientist?Robotic manipulators that can provide high gripping force in hazardous environments still need delicate control – and what better way to provide that control than directly from a human hand? That’s the thinking behind ExoHand, a prosthetic developed by veteran German robot maker, Festo .
Exohand was bio-modelled partly on the herring gull, penguin and even the elephant’s trunk.

ExoHand is a pneumatically-driven exoskeleton that fits the hand of the user like a glove. The operator’s hand movements are detected and then transmitted to a robotic arm that controls its own version of the hand.

The hand allows for fairly precise movements to be transferred to the robot glove. Better still, the system can amplify the force the user exerts to ensure, for instance, that crucial pieces are not dropped. The user also feels what the robot feels through force feedback via two-way pneumatics, so they don’t overdo it.

The glove is constructed to perfectly fit the human operator: a scan of the user’s hand is made and a 3D printer creates the ExoHand in polyamide plastic. Eight pneumatic actuators move the fingers, so that they can be opened and closed.

Festo, however, is far from alone in doing amazing things with automated hands. Prosthetics companies like Touch Bionics in Livingstone, UK, have engineered some astonishingly lifelike bionic hands with independently motorized fingers and joints that have utterly changed the lives of those who use them – allowing them to tie laces or pick up objects with almost natural dexterity.