Virginia Tech's Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory's undergraduate students have made a robotic hand that can gently grasp a raw egg as successfully as the machine holds a heavy can of food.
They say that the machine called Robotic Air-Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments (RAPHaEL) is flexible enough for sign language.
The machine has been connected to a compressed air tank. An operator controls the air pressure to manipulate the fingers.
While low air pressure lightens the grip, higher air pressure makes it firmer.
The students have revealed what makes RAPHaEL unique is their decision not to control each finger joint individually, but instead use one motion activator to move all of a finger's joints.
"It's a very interesting and novel (method) of actuating fingers in a very simple, elegant, and low-cost way," National Geographic News quoted faculty adviser and lab director Dennis Hong as saying.
RAPHaEL's creators believe that the lightweight mechanism, which won first place in the 2008-09 Compressed Air and Gas Institute's Innovation Awards Contest, may one day lend a hand to sign language programs as well as prosthetics design and other areas of scientific research.