Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Improved Robotic Hand Captures Top Award
Students win first place in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Student Mechanism and Robot Design Competition for robotic hand.
By Robotics Trends Staff - Filed Oct 08, 2009

The improved fully articulated robotic hand RAPHaEL 2 can firmly hold objects ranging from a soup can to a raw egg. It uses force and position feedback to automatically control the grasping force and finger position.

Virginia Tech students develop a robotic hand, the RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments), powered by compressed air that does not require the use of motors or other expensive and bulky actuators.



The Virginia Tech College of Engineering’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (RoMeLa) has captured another top award for its updated innovative robotic hand that can automatically change its grasping force using compressed air.

A team of five undergraduate students recently won First Place in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) Student Mechanism and Robot Design Competition at the International Design Engineering Technical Conference. The winning entry was RAPHaEL 2, a second-generation version of a robotic hand that previously won an award from the Compressed Air and Gas Institute (http://www.eng.vt.edu/news/article.php?niid=1686).

Held in San Diego, the ASME competition (http://www.asmeconferences.org/idetc09/) included undergraduate and graduate school teams. RoMeLa (http://www.me.vt.edu/romela/) bested graduate student teams from MIT and the University of California Berkeley, and an undergraduate team from Purdue University, said Dennis Hong (http://www.me.vt.edu/people/faculty/hong.html), director of RoMeLa and an associate professor with the Virginia Tech mechanical engineering department.

Student team members, all mechanical engineering majors, are

    Kyle Cothern of Fredericksburg, Virginia
  • Carlos Guevara of El Salvador
  • Alexander McCraw of York, Pennsylvania
  • Taylor Pesek of Richfield, Ohio
  • Colin Smith of Reston, Virginia

The RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments) series robotic hand is powered by compressed air and a novel accordion type tube actuator. Because the hand’s grasping force and compliance is adjusted by changing the air pressure, it does not require the use of motors or other expensive and bulky actuators, Hong said.

The most significant change for RAPHaEL 2 is the closed loop control mechanism and sensors for automatic position and force feedback of the fingers using LabVIEW and data acquisition hardware donated by National Instruments. The first version of RAPHaEL relied on solenoids with a microcontroller to operate. The material that comprises the hand also was changed to a durable polycarbonate material, replacing a fragile acrylic-based material that was prone to breakage, said Cothern.

“This gives us a lot more control over the kinds of things we can do with the hand,” said Cothern. “Eventually, we might be able to tell how soft an object you’re grabbing is just by touching it.”

Additional tweaks to come: The ability to grasp small moving objects as well as the use of silicone, carbon fiber, and other materials to make the hand lighter, simpler in structure, and also appear more human. As a possible prosthetic, the hand is easy to operate and its fingers are easy to replace if broken, Cothern said.

RAPHaEL 2 is part of a larger RoMeLa project: The humanoid robot CHARLI (Cognitive Humanoid Robot with Learning Intelligence). Once the hand is connected to the larger body, it will be able to pick up – not just grasp and hold – objects as would a person, said Hong. CHARLI is expected one day to walk about campus giving tours of Virginia Tech to visitors and potential students.

The College of Engineering (http://www.eng.vt.edu/) at Virginia Tech is internationally recognized for its excellence in 14 engineering disciplines and computer science. The college’s 6,000 undergraduates benefit from an innovative curriculum that provides a “hands-on, minds-on” approach to engineering education, complementing classroom instruction with two unique design-and-build facilities and a strong Cooperative Education Program. With more than 50 research centers and numerous laboratories, the college offers its 2,000 graduate students opportunities in advanced fields of study such as biomedical engineering, state-of-the-art microelectronics, and nanotechnology. Virginia Tech, the most comprehensive university in Virginia, is dedicated to quality, innovation, and results to the commonwealth, the nation, and the world.

Read related Virginia Tech News stories on RoMeLa’s accomplishments:

“Blind can take wheel with vehicle designed by university engineering design team”
(http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2009&itemno=542)

“Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory develops a low cost, dexterous robotic hand operated by compressed air” (http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2009&itemno=392)

“Team wins international competition with robots designed to save lives of construction workers” (http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2008&itemno=808)

This story can be found on the Virginia Tech News website:
http://www.vtnews.vt.edu/story.php?relyear=2009&itemno=738

Contact
Steven Mackay
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