Will air-powered robot hand grip the future?

Raphael is a robotic gripper that's powerful enough to hold something heavy, say an Uzi, but delicate enough to grasp human brains without destroying them.

In the future, we'll likely be bowing down to our robot overlords. They'll have amazing artificial intelligence and powerful metal bodies. I've long thought the bodies would be electronic servos powered by high-charge batteries, but a new development by the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory of the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech might change that.

Virginia Tech

Meet Raphael, the Robotic Air-Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments. It's a gripper that's powerful enough to hold something heavy, say an Uzi, but delicate enough to grasp human brains without destroying them. Certainly this is what the robotic soldiers of the future will be outfitted with.

The hand uses compressed air that passes through tiny actuators to control each finger separately. A microcomputer dictates how much air is given to each finger through an accordion-like tube. Less air means a softer grip, while more air means a firm grip that could rip out a human's windpipe.

The students who designed the man-killing machinery will be splitting a $10,500 prize for winning first place in an innovative-design competition sponsored by the Cleveland-based Compressed Air and Gas Institute, the association of manufacturers of compressed air and gas systems and equipment. Besides standalone robots, the hand could be fitted to amputees as a prosthetic, creating murderous cyborgs or, hopefully, humans capable of fighting off the mechanical menace with their own parts.

The hand is already on its second prototype design, with the newer model to be used by Charli, a humanoid robot also being built by Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory.

I'm seeing a brighter future already.

About the author

    With more than 15 years experience testing hardware (and being obsessed with it), Crave freelance writer Matt Hickey can tell the good gadgets from the great. He also has a keen eye for future technology trends. Matt has blogged for publications including TechCrunch, CrunchGear, and most recently, Gizmodo. Matt is a member of the CNET Blog Network and is not an employee of CBS Interactive. E-mail Matt.

     

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