As if robotics weren’t advancing fast enough, what with robotic astronauts or androids that can be 3D printed, it seems that DARPA has developed a robotic hand that can perform complex, dextrous tasks. But to make matters worse, this particular robot can be cheaply produced. Up until now, cost has remained a factor in the creation of robotic limbs that are capable of matching human skill. But from now on, we could very well be seeing robots replacing skilled labor on all fronts!
As we’re all no doubt aware, one of the key differences between humans and other mammals is the use of tools. These not only allowed our earliest ancestors the ability to alter their environment and overcome their disadvantages when faced with larger, deadlier creatures. They also allowed homo sapiens as a species to gain the upper hand against other species of hominids, those who’s brains and hands were not as developed as our own.
So what happens when a robot is capable of matching a human being when it comes to a complicated task – say, like changing a tire – and at a cost most businesses can afford? To add insult to injury, the robot was able to conduct this task using tools specifically designed for a human being. But of course, the purpose was not to demonstrate that a robot could replace a human worker, but that it was possible to create more dextrous prosthetics for the sake of replacing lost limbs.
Ordinarily, such machinery would run a person a good $10,000, but DARPA’s new design is estimated at a comparatively modest $3000. This was made possible by the use of consumer-grade tech in the construction process, such as cameras from cellphones. And in addition to being able to work with tools, the robot can perform more intricate maneuvers, such as handling an object as small as a set of tweezers.
However, DARPA was also quick to point out that the robot shown in the video featured below is actually an older model. Since its creation, they have set their sights on loftier goals than simple tool use, such as a robot that can identify and defuse Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). Much like many of their robotic projects, such as the Legged Squad Support System (LS3), this is part of DARPA’s commitment to developing robots that will assist future generations in the US army.
So if you’re a member of a pit crew, you can rest easy for now. You’re job is safe… for the moment. But if you’re a member of a bomb squad, you might be facing some robotic competition in the near future. Who knows, maybe that’s a good thing. No one likes to be replaced, but if you’re facing a ticking bomb, I think most people would be happier if the robot handled it!
And in the meantime, check out the video of the robotic hand in action: