An undergraduate team at the Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech), Blacksburg, Virginia, has taken first place in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Student Mechanism and Robot Design Competition. The team’s project is the second generation of the device known as the Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments (RAPHaEL).
According to Dennis Hong, PhD, director of RoMeLa, the hand’s grasp and compliance depend on air pressure and an actuator tube that can open and close like an accordion, and it requires no motors or other actuators. Its competitors for the ASME award included teams from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California Berkeley, and Purdue University.
According to Virginia Tech, RAPHaEL 2 includes “a closed-loop control mechanism and sensors for automatic position and force feedback of the fingers using LabVIEW and data acquisition hardware donated by National Instruments, Austin, Texas. The first version of RAPHaEL relied on solenoids with a microcontroller to operate. The material that comprises the hand also were changed to a durable polycarbonate material, replacing a fragile acrylic-based material that was prone to breakage.”
Team member Kyle Cothern said, “This gives us a lot more control over the kinds of things we can do with the hand. Eventually, we might be able to tell how soft an object you’re grabbing is just by touching it.”
According to Virginia Tech, future iterations of the device may include the ability to grasp small moving objects, and may include silicone, carbon fiber, and other materials intended to reduce the hand’s weight, simplify its structure, and improve its cosmesis.
Cothern noted in a press release that the hand could serve as an easy-to-operate prosthesis whose fingers would be easy to replace if broken.
RAPHaEL 2 is just one component of RoMeLa’s ambitious Cognitive Humanoid Robot with Learning Intelligence (CHARLI) project. “CHARLI is expected one day to walk about campus giving tours of Virginia Tech to visitors and potential students,” the university said.
To view a video of the RAPHaEL system in action, visit youtube.com http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdeYmwiqT5s