Robotic Hand Shakes Yours for Long Distance Greeting

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When Skype and FaceTime just aren’t enough, a haptic robotic hand could help overcome distance to keep people directly in touch.

Imagine being able to shake a colleague’s hand at the beginning of a video conference call, even if you’re on opposite sides of the Earth. That’s the idea behind a haptic robotic hand being developed by Hideyuki Nakanishi, an associate professor of adaptive machine systems at Osaka University, along with his colleagues Kazuaki Tanaka and Yuya Wada.

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Each hand contains wires pulled by a servomotor, extending and contracting the fingers and thumb. A spring inside the wire generates a constant grip force. The fingers are covered in urethane gel while the palm has urethane sponge to replicate the feeling of a real human hand, according to the researchers’ paper (abstract).

The system works with two robotic hands and a video teleconferencing system. Each person grasps a haptic robotic hand, which stands in for their own arms. Unlike other robotic hands, these are warm and lifelike. The team is presenting the system in Toronto this week at the CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems.

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The handshake almost seems like a prank in the video demo but Nakanishi’s team had test subjects compare the robotic handshake with other scenarios, including one where the subject sees a presenter’s hand above the robotic one, and another without any robotics. With the two-way robotic hand, subjects said they felt more like they were shaking hands with a friendly presenter in the same room.

Although the robotic hand is warm to the touch, it doesn’t transmit sweat. So nobody has to know how nervous you really are about that work presentation.

Credit: Association for Computing Machinery, YouTube

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