London-based Shadow Robot Company has developed a robotic hand that uses 3D cameras and force sensors to determine how best to grip a given object. The company is already taking orders for their Dexterous Hand, with the makers seeing great potential in brain-controlled prosthetics and future search and rescue operations. Matthew Stock has more.
STORY: Designed by London-based Shadow Robot Company, this robotic hand can analyse the shape of an object and then decide how best to grip it. Called the Dexterous Hand - it also has finger-tip mounted pressure sensors so it can judge how much force is needed. It represents a leap forward in artificial intelligence, according to Shadow's managing director Rich Walker. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RICH WALKER, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF SHADOW ROBOT COMPANY, SAYING: "What we've tried to do is put intelligence into the robot hand, and that means sensing. So we're adding sensors on the fingertips that can understand how the robot is touching the world and interacting with it. And we're adding 3D cameras so the robot can see things around it and be able to work out how to grasp and manipulate them." Those 3D depth-sensing cameras allow the Dexterous Hand to examine an object it's presented with. Software then decides the arrangement of the fingers for the optimal grip, while touch sensors continually monitor the stability of the grasp. At the moment the depth-sensing camera is external, but Walker hopes to eventually incorporate the technology into the hand itself. He says Shadow's open source technology has allowed other developers to adapt the hand for their own research. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RICH WALKER, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF SHADOW ROBOT COMPANY, SAYING: "What we've found really exciting is we have customers who are using this hand to develop next-generation prosthetics by looking at, for example, what does a brain-computer interface look like to control a robot hand? How do you get that to work?" But Shadow isn't the only company working on intelligent grasping robots. This robot was developed at the University of Birmingham and also adapts to hold unfamiliar objects. Roboticists see great potential for sensory robots like these, not only in the home but also in potentially life-saving situations. (SOUNDBITE) (English) RICH WALKER, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF SHADOW ROBOT COMPANY, SAYING: "We're exploring applications of the hand in areas where you'd really like to put a person but can't. And that might be a search and rescue scenario where you send a robot in somewhere and now you want to lift something up, move something out of the way. Or equally, that might be working on a nuclear site where you have a hot cell where you can't put a person in, but you really like human agility and dexterity there." And they say, that future is almost here. A robot that can get to grips with the world around it presents possibilities previously reserved for science-fiction.