There’s a new robotic arm in town, charming people with its 60psi powered movements, surprising dexterity, and lack of motors. It’s name is RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments), and it was built by four Virginia Tech mechanical engineering students as part of a larger project to create a humanoid robot. The arm alone, having no motors, and a safe, inexpensive design with adjustable grip, has potential for use as a prosthesis. Its four creators have already won a slew of engineering awards – here’s hoping their next trophy is for turning it into a medical device.
From the press release:
The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech has developed a unique robotic hand that can firmly hold objects as heavy as a can of food or as delicate as a raw egg, while dexterous enough to gesture for sign language.
Named RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments), the fully articulated robotic hand is powered by a compressor air tank at 60 psi and a novel accordion type tube actuator. Microcontroller commands operate the movement to coordinate the motion of the fingers…
The grip derives from the extent of pressure of the air. A low pressure is used for a lighter grip, while a higher pressure allows for a sturdier grip. The compliance of compressed air also aids in the grasping as the fingers can naturally follow the contour of the grasped object.
Here’s a video of the hand in action:
Press Release: Virginia Tech’s RoMeLa develops a low cost, dexterous robotic hand operated by compressed air
(hat tip: Engadget)