In a world where wounded soldiers are returning from the battlefield with missing limbs, and police are in potential danger when bomb threats are called in, it is good to know that alternatives are being developed to help prevent such injuries. One of these devices is a new breed of cost-effective, artificial hand that is easier to use than its predecessors. This hand has been developed to protect our soldiers and police personnel when they are required to disarm an improvised explosive device, aka IED. It is hoped that, by using this device, the person charged with disarming an IED will be protected from harm.
The US government offered the project up for bid to any company that could design a robotic hand that would simulate a real human hand. The hand would require a high degree of dexterity and precision to be considered for use by the military. It also needed to be more cost-effective than previous models. The government knew that this would be real challenge since other high dexterity hands had cost upwards of $250,000 to make. In fact, the hand is the most expensive part of any bomb-disarming device because of the dexterity required.
In response, Sandia Labs stepped up to the plate to tackle the problem. In fact, it went so far as to include benefits such as:
- The robotic hand is modular so that the fingers can easily be removed and replaced.
- The robotic hand is capable of maneuvering a flashlight, tools, or cameras as needed.
- The robotic hand is very durable.
- The robotic hand has the ability to replace its own fingers in the field.
How is the Hand Controlled?
A user actually puts on a glove that mimics the user’s hand and transfers the data to the robotic hand. This allows even those who have no expertise in using robotic hands to easily control the device, so training time is vastly reduced. In addition, due to its flexibility, the robotic hand can not only disarm a bomb, but can also save its mechanisms, thus allowing them to be studied to see how the bomb was made. This concept makes much more sense than the current means of disabling an IED, which is to run something over the bomb and let it explode.
How Much Does This Revolutionary Robotic Hand Cost?
According to a report from Sandia Labs, the company estimates that each robotic hand unit could cost as little as $10,000. This is a remarkable price considering the previous $250,000 per unit cost. In addition, when you include the cost that the government would be saving in training personnel, the savings should be of some significance.
At this price, I can also see where police agencies would be another possible market for this robotic hand, especially since evidence can be collected after the device is disarmed. In addition, like with the military, it would mean that police personnel would be able to disarm a device without endangering the lives of the officers involved in the disarming procedure.
Can There Be Additional Uses for This Type of Hand?
So, while this is a great device for disarming bombs, I see possible markets elsewhere. I know that when I first read about this new robotic hand, my first thoughts turned to using such a device as a prosthesis. In fact, one would think that, with a little tweaking, this technology could be enhanced and refined to be used by soldiers or anyone else who loses a hand. What a great blessing to those who are currently trying to maneuver in today’s society with just one workable hand.
Do I think that this is a great piece of scientific engineering? You can tell that I do and I believe that with its dexterity and low cost this robotic hand could be used in other applications as well.
What do you think?
Comments as always are welcome.
Source: Sandia National Labs
CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by sandialabs