DARPA-Funded Robotic Hand Can Repair Itself, Disarm IEDs


Sandia National Laboratories has developed a cost-effective robotic hand with enough dexterity to mimic human hand movement in the hope it could be used in disarming improvised explosive devices, or IEDs.

Funded by the ever-fascinating Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA, a particular favourite of ours), the Sandia Hand’s construction is modular, meaning individual fingers can not only be moved independently of each other – resulting in unprecedented levels of dexterity from a robotic hand – but are also detachable and can be easily replaced with other attachments to suit the task at hand; such as with flashlights, tools or cameras. Not only that, but the unique design means the robot can repair itself, with its remaining fingers capable of picking up dropped digits and attaching them to the magnetic strips should they fall off accidentally.

But whereas current robotic hands with similar functionality can cost more than a quarter of a million dollars, Sandia enthuses its creation is a “breakthrough” of sorts, slashing the cost by 90-percent, with the Sandia Hand displaying ‘12 degrees of freedom’ all for around $10,000 total in low-volume production.

Senior manager at Sandia Philip Heerman explains, “At this price point, the Sandia Hand has the potential to be a disruptive technology. Computers, calculators and cell phones became part of daily life and drastically changed how we do things when the price became affordable. This hand has the same potential, especially given that high-volume production can further reduce the cost.”

Richard Birkett