Robotic finger designed to look, feel and work like a real finger

Scientist from Florida Atlantic University has developed a robotic finger that looks, feels and works like a real finger, according to a study recently published in Bioinspiration & Biomimetics.

Erik Engeberg, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Ocean and Mechanical Engineering at the College of Engineering and Computer Science at Florida Atlantic University, and colleagues used shape memory alloy, a 3-D CAD human finger model, 3-D printer and “Joule”, a resistive heating process to create and test the robotic finger.

“We have been able to thermomechanically train our robotic finger to mimic the motions of a human finger like flexion and extension,” Engeberg said in a press release. “Because of its light weight, dexterity and strength, our robotic design offers tremendous advantages over traditional mechanisms, and could ultimately be adapted for use as a prosthetic device, such a prosthetic hand.”

The new technology used both a heating and cooling process for the robotic finger to operate. According to study results, the finger was able to rapidly flex and extend and was able to recover its shape more accurately and completely. This confirmed the trained shape’s biomechanical basis.

Initially, the robotic finger was to be used for underwater operations. The thermal insulators on the fingertips were left open to allow water to flow inside the finger. When the finger was flexed and extended, the actuators were cooled when the water flowed through the inner cavity within the insulators.

 “Because our robotic finger consistently recovered its thermomechanically trained shape better than other similar technologies, our underwater experiments clearly demonstrated that the water cooling component greatly increased the operational speed of the finger,” Engeberg said.

Reference: Engeberg E, et al. Bioinspir Biomim. 2015; doi:10.1088/1748-3190/10/5/056002.

Disclosure: Engeberg reports no relevant financial disclosures.

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