Cornell University computer researchers have created a soft-handed robot.

Cybernetics will never cease to amaze us. Recently, a team of computer engineers from the Cornell University announced that it was successful in created a soft-handed robot that has the ability to manipulate delicate objects and to feel their textures.

The soft-handed robot created in Cornell’s laboratories is regarded as a revolutionary breakthrough in the field of robotics. Researchers argued that if the robotic handed can be perfected, its design can be used to produce cheaper biocompatible prosthesis for patients who have lost their limbs.

The robotic hand has already undergone a series of lab-controlled tests, and, according to the team, the results are more than encouraging. In the first series of test, the robotic had was tasked with choosing the ripest tomato from a group of three tomatoes.

To do this, the robotic hand had to feel the texture of each tomato and then to pick it up from the lot. Without even flinching, the robot picked up the ripest tomato from the group after groping each fruit.

Huichan Zhao, the project’s senior researcher, explained how the soft-handed robot works. Traditionally, robotic arms could ‘feel’ the objects around them if they were made of metal or they conducted electricity.

However, the latest project ditches the old electricity/metal approach, and instead focuses on light. Zhao explained that the robot’s hand is more or less similar to a balloon. This state-of-the-art balloon contains countless waveguides or pipes which are able to guide light waves.

The Professor also explained that these pipes are very flexible, as to allow the robot total freedom of movement. Whenever the robot moves its arms, the light pipes are obstructed. The sensors inside the robotic hand sense these changes in light pattern and are able to convert them into sensation-like signals.

The robot’s soft hand features high-tech sensors on the outside, as well as the inside. These sensors allow the soft-handed robot to figure out what it’s touching at the moment.

Zhao declared that this type of technology could be used to fashion cheap prosthesis, but it’s still far from leaving the laboratory. The senior researcher said that, at the moment, the handed using a high amount of energy just to stay in an upright position.

Theoretically, the device can be used to create hand prosthesis, but the wearer will need a sufficiently powerful battery in order to power up the assembly. In addition, the senior researcher declared that a human brain – robotic arm interface has not been devised.

Image source: Cornell University