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Electrolocation Robotic Hand Has PreTouch

Take a look at this robotic hand using electrolocation (also called electroreception) to figure out the position of the object to be grasped. It's what an electric eel would design - if an electric eel could grasp the concept of fingers and thumbs.


(Video of robotic hand electrolocation)

The thing that I find most amazing about this robotic hand is that it succeeds so well using a means of perception that is alien to human beings.

The robotic hand described above has what you might call an active electrolocation sense. The tips of its fingers emit weak electrical impulses that objects interfere with; this provides the hand with enough information to grasp the object. Certain fish have a natural version of this; the fish generates a weak electric field and then uses electroreceptor organs to detect distortions in the field. Aquatic creatures do it better because water is a better conductor than the medium we live in (air).

Most robots struggle with machine vision, the same sense that we humans use effortlessly to find objects and grasp them. This robotic hand uses a different sense - and succeeds amazingly well.

The Intel researchers who created the electrolocation robotic hand call this ability "PreTouch."

I don't have a direct sfnal precursor for this idea, but consider the early reference to a robotic hand that uses touch feedback in Robert Heinlein's 1956 story The Door Into Summer.

Hands I could order from the atomics-engineering equipment companies who supplied Hired Girl's hands, only this time I would want the best, with wide-range servos and with the delicate feedback required for microanalysis manipulations and for weighing radioactive isotopes...

The ears I could buy from any of a dozen radio-TV houses - though I might have to do some circuit designing to have his hands controlled simultaneously by sight, sound, and touch feedback the way the human hand is controlled.
(Read more about Heinlein's robotic hands)

I also note in passing that "pretouch" goes well with the phildickian ideas of precrime and prethink.

Here is a fistful of mechanical hands for you to grasp.

Via Robotic Hand Uses Shark-like "Sixth Sense" to Find Its Grip.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 6/12/2008)

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