Lifelike Robotic Fingers For Social Touching

The prosthetics of science fiction (like Heinlein's specialized prosthetic arm and Martin Caidin's bionic arm) are almost ready. Prosthetics like the DEKA Prosthetic Arm, the DLR Robotic Hand-Arm and the i-Limb System Robot Arm will revolutionize the prosthetics field.

Robotic hands are similarly in an advanced state. The BeBionic Robotic Hand With Powered Wrist and the Thought-Controlled Robotic Hand are evidence of this evolution. (SF fans of course remember the robotic hand from Heinlein's The Door into Summer and Philip K. Dick's robot surgeon-hand from War Veteran.)

These new devices will allow people with prosthetic hands and arms to interact socially in ways that most of us haven't thought about. What would it feel like to shake hands? Give a high five? How about feeling a friendly pat on the arm or the shoulder?

In a new paper, John-John Cabibihan, Raditya Pradipta and Shuzhi Sam Ge of The Social Robotics Laboratory, Interactive and Digital Media Institute and Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, The National University of Singapore, Singapore, reveal some fascinating research on the development of prosthetic hands that feel similar to human hands.


(Force sensors on the hand
(a) On the surface of the palm and
(b) Back of the hand.)

As realistic as they may look, the currently available prosthetic hands have physical properties that are still far from the characteristics of human skins because they are much stiffer. In this paper, different configurations of synthetic finger phalanges have been investigated for their skin compliance behaviour and have been compared with the phalanges of the human fingers and a phalanx from a commercially available prosthetic hand.

Handshake tests were performed to identify which areas on the human hand experience high contact forces. After these areas were determined, experiments were done on selected areas using an indenting probe to obtain the force-displacement curves...

During handshake, the high magnitudes of contact forces were observed at the areas where the full grasping enclosure of the other person's hand can be achieved. From these areas, the middle phalanges of the (a) little, (b) ring, and (c) middle fingers were selected. The indentation experiments on these areas showed that a 2 N force corresponds to skin tissue displacements of more than 2 mm. The results from the simulation model show that introducing an open pocket with 2 mm height on the internal structure of synthetic finger phalanges increased the skin compliance of the silicone material to 235% and the polyurethane material to 436%, as compared to a configuration with a solid internal geometry. In addition, the study shows that an indentation of 2 N force on the synthetic skin with an open pocket can also achieve a displacement of more than 2 mm, while the finger phalanx from a commercially available prosthetic hand can only achieve 0.2 mm.

Via Prosthetic finger phalanges with lifelike skin compliance for low-force social touching interactions. See also my earlier article on their work Robots Need Realistic Skin!.

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