The primitive five-fingered human hand is in need of an upgrade, according to researchers at MIT. So they’ve created a wrist-mounted robot that adds two long fingers to your hand so you can perform everyday routines more easily. The implications could be significant for the elderly and people with disabilities.
The device comprises a glove with three motion-detecting sensors running along the thumb, index finger and middle finger; it also has a light brace that mounts on the wearer’s wrist, from which two long fingers extend beside the thumb and pinky. An algorithm teaches the robot what posture to take when the hand is positioned in a certain way.
With two additional robotic fingers, a seven-fingered human would be able to do a number of routine tasks with less trouble – opening an envelope, removing the cap on a soda bottle or turning a screwdriver, for instance. This kind of functionality can help the elderly and people with disabilities to live more independently, according to Faye Wu, a graduate student at MIT working on the project.
“Right now we’re looking at posture, but it’s not the whole story,” says Wu. “There are other things that make a good, stable grasp. With an object that looks small but is heavy, or is slippery, the posture would be the same, but the force would be different, so how would it adapt to that? That’s the next thing we’ll look at.”
Wu also foresees the two-pronged robot learning personal grasping preferences, similar to how Apple’s Siri learns a user’s pronunciations to improve its listening and interpretation.
“This is a prototype, but we can shrink it down to one-third its size, and make it foldable,” according to Henry Asada, the Ford Professor of Engineering in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering. “We could make this into a watch or a bracelet where the fingers pop up, and when the job is done, they come back into the watch. Wearable robots are a way to bring the robot closer to our daily life.”
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