Not even a baseball bat can damage the fingers on a new robotic hand developed by iRobot for the DARPA Autonomous Robotic Manipulation (ARM) program. The four-year program, which began in 2010, seeks to build and program a robot capable of handling all kinds of things on the battlefield with minimal human input. Most robot hands have rigid components which tend to be quite fragile, but this hand has rubbery fingers, which are better able to absorb impacts.
Its fingers may look a bit flimsy, but the team at iRobot is turning that into an advantage. Rather than having to be super precise, the compliant nature of the fingers allows the robot to drag tiny objects off of smooth surfaces, like a key on a table, with relative ease. And the hand can carry a payload of up to 50 pounds (22.7 kg), which is a significant improvement over NASA's Robonaut R2, which can handle less than half that.
Those features may come in handy (no pun intended) as the ARM program moves into its testing phase, which will require the robot to write with a pen, use pliers, unzip a duffel bag, drill a hole with a power tool, insert a key to unlock a door, and assemble an object from a parts kit. One of the tests involves unpinning a grenade and throwing it. Clearly, this robot is destined for war, but it could help to save soldier's lives.
Watch as the hand's fingers are repeatedly smashed with a baseball bat in the following video.