Science is hard at work developing ever more freaky robots to take over the world. To that end, DARPA, in partnership with private-public-hybrid Sandia National Laboratories, has developed a "cost-effective" modular robot hand that is scarily close to mimicking a human hand's movements.
If you check out the video below (complete with rockin' techno-metal soundtrack), you'll see examples of this Sandia Hand not only handling a variety of everyday objects, but having the dexterity to pick up a tiny screw off a table or even placing a battery into the back of a tiny flashlight.
The hand is controlled like a robotic puppet, as it mirrors the movements of an operator wearing a glove. (We will also have to assume it is somewhat more complicated than that, as a second operator twiddling what appears to be a sound mixer is clearly visible in the foreground).
But in any event, the human-like movement of the hand showcased in the video, however it is achieved, is pretty impressive.
Another innovation of the Sandia Hand is that it is modular. Fingers can be easily detached and reattached, and presumably specialized fingers (say, those with a camera, flashlight or screwdriver) could swapped in depending on the task to be accomplished. According to the engineering team, the hand will even have the ability to remove and reattach its own fingers.
As this is the result of a DARPA-funded project, the goal of the hand was to disarm IEDs. Typically, today's protocol just calls for blowing the suckers up. The disadvantage there is that investigators are left with little evidence to track down bomb makers. This robotic arm would keep human soldiers out of harm's way and also maintain evidence of the bomb for the military forensics team.
Now, when we say the Sandia Hand is "cost-effective," we are being both truthful and relative. Previous robotic hands have cost up to $250,000, while this Sandia Hand maxes out at around $10,000. Still, once it enters the economies of scale and develops out of the prototype stage, expect to see the price tag on this robotic puppet hand comedown considerably.