The iHY Robot Hand is the result of the DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manupulation(ARM) program. the aim was developed with the goal of producing a low cost robotic hand with the flexibility to handle different situations.
The hand is equipped with three fingers that are flexible and able to pick up large objects like a basketball to a small object like a pin. It’s able to sustain the weight of a 50 lb kettle bell. It can open doors, pick up a power tool before operating the power tool with it’s finger. It is a very versatible hand at a very low price. It has contributed greatly to the field of robotics in a big way.
The hand is underactuated and called so because there are fewer motors than joints. The spring like material and mechanical linkages connect the rigid parts of the finger. The design of the finger enables it to grab and hold large object but yet also grasp small objects like a pin. Have a look at the video to see it at work. This is not the first underactuated finger in the market but it is the first with it’s versatility and at that price point.
iRobot has done a great job and they did not do it alone. They had the help of Harvard and Yale, hence the name – iHY.
Today’s manufacturing robots are big and stiff, unsafe for people to be around, engineered to be precise and repeatable, not adaptable. Normal workers can’t touch them… What if ordinary people could touch robots? What if ordinary people got to interact with them and use them?
Placing the human in proximity to a robot might slow down a robot while it performs its task. I am curious to find out how this can be achieved in reality. Are these robots inherently safe, where even safety is considered from a hardware perspective.
Robots are typical position controlled but there is a move to force control or impedence control where forces with the human, the environment and the object are consider. This means the robot is becoming more like us as it’s possible for a human to work blindfolded feeling our way and figuring out the objects and the environment around us just by touch. There are a few companies that are working and selling these types of robots.
Meka Robotics is one company that has developed a human safe force controlled robot that can be used for such applications. Barrett Technology’s WAM arm is another such arm is highly dexterous, naturally backdrivable. It’s being used in the DARPA’s ARM Challenge. The other arm is the KUKA’s LWR arm has a 1:1 Mass-Payload ratio with a 7kg payload. This ensures that the robot is safe as compared to a typical industrial robot. The LWR is on sale but there is a great interest in the arm from the industry. These technologies don’t come cheap but it’s the way robotics should go. It would be good to see more adopter of the technologies in the real world outside of the laboratories.