TECHNOLOGY: Robotic Hand Can Disarm Roadside Bombs

September 5, 2012 at 5:02 pm Leave a comment

Handy Device

Sandia National Labs – with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) – has developed a modular robotic hand which scientists and engineers say could be used to disarm homemade bombs.

The Sandia robotic hand can grasp irregularly-shaped objects.
(Sandia Labs photo by Randy Montoya)

Such bombs, called improvised explosive devices (IEDs), are responsible for killing and maiming thousands of U.S. and allied troops in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. The human cost has been so high that the Pentagon created a separate agency – the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization – in 2006 to collect threat intelligence and develop technologies and training to counter the IED scourge.

DARPA is the think-outside-the-box research agency within the Defense Department, that has done ground-breaking work in computer science, robotics, aerospace and lasers. It developed ARPANET, the precursor to the Internet, as well as the Predator unmanned aircraft.

The new robotic hand is a promising addition in the fight against IEDs, not only because is it durable and almost as dexterous as a human hand, but because it is much cheaper than current versions of robotic hands — which can cost as much as $250,000.

The Sandia hand, as it is known, is expected to cost only about $10,000, according to officials at the New Mexico-based national laboratory. Curt Salisbury, the principal investigator on the hand project says hands are considered the most difficult part of any robotic system, and they are “also the least available due to the need for high dexterity at a low cost,.” he added.

The operator controls the robot hand with a wired glove which allows it to mimic human hand abilities. A video Sandia has put together shows the hand easily picking up objects like a rock, hammer or paper clip and performing delicate tasks like loading double-A batteries into a flashlight.

Developers believe using the robotic hand to disable an IED could help investigators track down the bomb makers. That’s because instead of simply blowing up an IED – and destroying evidence – authorities could disarm the explosive and preserve the evidence that could lead to more arrests and fewer bombs.

The robotic hand poses a less risky way to disarm roadside bombs.
(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Ruth Pagan)

Sandia partnered with researchers at Stanford University in California to develop the robot hand’s hardware. DARPA is funding separate software research on a parallel track.

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Entry filed under: Afghanistan, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, National Security and Defense, Skills and Training, Technology, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

THIS WEEK in the War of 1812 (Sept. 2-Sept. 8) UPDATE FRIDAY FOTOS (September 7, 2012)

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