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Not too long ago, when people thought of prosthetic limbs, the image they likely had was of a pirate sporting a wooden leg (and a shoulder-parrot, to boot). A lot has changed since then, and prosthetics technology is advancing at breakneck speeds. One such development comes from a team of researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle who have created an incredible, bio-inspired lifelike hand.
Emanuel Todorov and Zhe Xu have created a hand that not only looks similar to the real deal, it acts like one, too. The team delved deep into the mechanics of the human hand, performing extremely accurate 3D scans to create their replica. They built each individual part, added accurate ligaments and muscles, to mimic the movement of a human hand.
Until now, researchers around the world tried to simplify the design of hands, replacing biological parts with hinges and the like. While this approach helps understanding the mechanics of the human hand, it brings us no closer to to replicating the functionality. The discrepancies introduced are too great, Xu say. “Thus none of the existing anthropomorphic robotic hands can achieve the human-level dexterity yet.”
Xu and Todorov’s hand certainly brings us that much closer to that goal. Not only is it striking to look at, the range of motion and the dexterity demonstrated by the mechanical hand is quite incredible. Using a sensor-glove one can move the hand on its mount, and it mimics those movements precisely. When the technology matures, it could be life-changing for those in need of prosthetics, as well as greatly advancing robotic hands in general.