Robot 'Hands' Write Without Fingers

Via Science:

Scientists have created a robotic arm that can do everything from serve drinks to draw pictures even though it has no digits.
Fingers and thumbs work perfectly well for humans, says Eric Brown, a physicist at the University of Chicago in Illinois. But on a robot they can be clumsy. The fingers slip. They grip too hard and break whatever they're trying to hold. And sometimes they don't grasp it at all. Then there are the complexities of manipulating 20-odd joints with a computer.
So Brown and his colleagues took a different tack. Their robotic hand, which they describe online today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is a thin rubber sack filled with coffee grains or small glass spheres. When this hand comes in contact with an object, a small pipe sucks air from the sack, causing it to contract and mold to the object's shape. The contraction is small—a mere 1% change in volume–but was enough to grab most objects the researchers tested. "It's very simple to control," notes Brown. "You don't have all these joints."

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