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DARPA robot hand picks up keys, 50-pound weights

The robotic hand is durable enough to survive being hit with a baseball bat and, at $3,000 apiece, is relatively cheap.

Forget the pitcher: The prototype hand, developed by iRobot, can take a licking. Screenshot by Tim Hornyak/CNET

Mimicking the human grasp is no easy feat. Robotic hands tend to be clunky and expensive.

But now, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is showing off a robotic hand that's dexterous enough to pick up keys and tough enough to survive being hit with a baseball bat.

The video below shows a prototype from DARPA's Autonomous Robotic Manipulation project. Instead of trying to reproduce the human hand in robot form, the prototype focuses on function. It has three fingers that are able to pick up small objects such as keys and credit cards, and it can even grasp objects with tweezers.

The robotic hand can also pick up a basketball, bear 50-pound weights, and keep working even after being hit with a baseball bat.

The goal of the ARM program is to enable "robust, low-cost, and dexterous" robot manipulators to handle things without human control.

"ARM seeks to enable autonomous manipulation systems to surpass the performance level of remote manipulation systems that are controlled directly by a human operator," DARPA says on the Web site for the program.

"The program will attempt to reach this goal by developing software and hardware that enables robots to autonomously grasp and manipulate objects in unstructured environments, with humans providing only high-level direction."

Developed by iRobot, the prototype "can be manufactured for as little as $3,000 per unit (in batches of 1,000 or more), down from the $50,000 cost of current technology," the agency says on its YouTube channel.