Scientists have developed a 3D-printed robotic hand which can play simple musical phrases on the piano by just moving its wrist.
Even though this limited the robot hand’s range of motion compared to a human hand, the researchers found that a surprisingly wide range of movement was still possible by relying on the hand’s mechanical design.
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The results, reported in the journal Science Robotics, could help inform the design of robots that are capable of more natural movement with minimal energy use.
The mechanical properties and design of systems are important for intelligent functioning, and help both animals and machines to move in complex ways without expending unnecessary amounts of energy.
“We can use passivity to achieve a wide range of movement in robots: walking, swimming or flying, for example,”
said Josie Hughes from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering, the paper’s first author.
“Smart mechanical design enables us to achieve the maximum range of movement with minimal control costs: we wanted to see just how much movement we could get with mechanics alone.”
Most of today’s advanced robots are not capable of manipulation tasks which small children can perform with ease.
said Dr Fumiya Iida, who led the research.
“Our bodies consist of smart mechanical designs such as bones, ligaments, and skins that help us behave intelligently even without active brain-led control. By using the state-of-the-art 3D printing technology to print human-like soft hands, we are now able to explore the importance of physical designs, in isolation from active control, which is impossible to do with human piano players as the brain cannot be ‘switched off’ like our robot.”
By actuating the wrist, it is possible to choose how the hand interacts with the piano, allowing the embodied intelligence of the hand to determine how it interacts with the environment.
“It’s just the basics at this point, but even with this single movement, we can still get quite complex and nuanced behaviour,”
“This approach to mechanical design can change how we build robotics,”
“The fabrication approach allows us to design mechanically intelligent structures in a way that is highly scalable.”
“This approach also reduces the amount of machine learning required to control the hand; by developing mechanical systems with intelligence built in, it makes control much easier for robots to learn.”