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Nimble-fingered robot could disarm bombs, put batteries in flashlight

Image of hand
The Sandia Hand addresses challenges that have prevented widespread adoption of other robotic hands, including cost, durability, dexterity and modularity.Randy Montoya / Sandia National Laboratories

A robotic hand built at a government lab in New Mexico is manipulative enough to slot a AA battery into a flashlight and, perhaps, safely disarm roadside bombs.

Robotic hands are nothing new, but most approaches to mimicking the dexterity of humans cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The Sandia Hand is expected to cost a mere $10,000.

The hand is modular, allowing fingers and other tools to be attached to the hand frame with magnets. Instead of a pinky-like finger, why not make it a screwdriver?

The modularity also makes the hand durable, according to Sandia National Laboratories. Should the hand be rammed into a wall with a force that might break a human finger, the robot digit is designed to pop off and fall to the ground.

“The robot can actually pick it up with the remaining fingers, move it into position and resocket the finger by itself,” Curt Salisbury, the principal investigator for the hand project, said in a news release

In the video below, you can see the hand pick up objects including a rock, canteen and a phone. It also turns on and off a heavy duty flashlight and slots a battery into flashlight.

In the future, the hand may work autonomously, but for now it is manipulated with a control panel as seen in the video. It can also be controlled by a glove that reads the wearer’s hand posture and attempts to replicate it.

The project is funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which envisions the technology used to disarm roadside bombs such as those encountered in Iraq and Afghanistan.

 via Scientific American 

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News Digital. To learn more about him, check out his website. For more of our Future of Technology series, watch the featured video below.