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Warning: Do not watch this video if you lay awake at night, kept from sleep by the terrifying knowledge that one day soon the human race will be thrown into slavery by The Machines. For the more naïve amongst us, here’s the clip:
Oh, I forgot to say that if you don’t like to see a finger being locked in a vice and then whacked with a metal bar, you probably shouldn’t watch, either. Sorry.
The robot hand you see is German made, by researchers at the Institute of Robotics and Mechatronics. In building the first part of the Terminator, the researchers were going for robustness, and they appear to have achieved quite chilling success.
Not that utility has been traded for toughness: as the video shows, the hand is capable of an astonishing range of movement. The fingers are controlled by 38 tendons, each of which is driven by its own motor inside the forearm. Two tendons serve each joint. When their motors turn the same way, the joint moves. When they turn in opposite directions, the joint stiffens. This lets it toughen-up to catch balls, yet be loose enough to perform delicate operations.
During tests, the researchers went all Joe Pesci on their robot creation, and took a baseball bat to the arm – a 66G whack. The result? Nothing. The hand came away unscathed.
Not only can the hand take punishment, it can also deal it out, exerting up to 30 Newtons of pressure with its fingers, plenty for either a stimulating massage or a deadly choking grip. It is also fast. The joints can spin at 500-degrees per second. If it tenses the springs joined to the tendons first, and then releases that energy, the joints can reach a head-spinning 2000-degrees per second, or 333 RPM. That’s fast enough for it to snap its fingers and summon a human slave to do its bidding.
It doesn’t stop there. The head of the hand team, Markus Grebenstein (don’t you just wish it was Grabenstein?), says that the plan is to build a torso with two arms. His excuse? According to an interview with IEEE Spectrum, Grebenstein says that “The problem is, you can’t learn without experimenting.”
Yes you can, Mr. Grebenstein. Just watch Terminator 2.