Had Jeremy Renner's character been played by a robot, I don't think the movie would have been such a blockbuster. Fiction is one thing, reality is another. That alone makes the Sandia Hand worth the price of admission. The robotic hand may not leave you on the edge of your seat, but when it comes to safely dismantling improvised explosive devise (IEDs), it gets two thumbs up.
A lack of affordability, dexterity, durability and modularity have all prevented robotic hands from being more widespread in the military's explosive ordnance disposal units.
"Current iterations of robotic hands can cost more than $250,000. We need the flexibility and capability of a robotic hand to save human lives, and it needs to be priced for wide distribution to troops," Sandia senior manager Philip Heermann said in a press release.
Funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Sandia Hand project is different because it's modular. Various types of fingers can be magnetically attached to the hand frame. The operator controls the robot with a glove, giving the hand the flexibility and dexterity needed for delicate maneuvers. Additionally, the operator can quickly attach other tools, such as flashlights, screwdrivers or cameras to the hand. Sandia's durable outer skin covers a gel-like layer similar to human tissue, giving it an advantage when grabbing objects.
Researchers at Stanford University helped develop the hardware and consulting firm LUNAR helped reduce costs. With current robotic hands on the market, each "degree of freedom" costs approximately $10,000.
"The Sandia Hand has 12 degrees of freedom, and is estimated to retail for about $800 per degree of freedom — $10,000 total — in low-volume production. This 90-percent cost reduction is really a breakthrough," said Carl Salisbury, lead investigator on the project.
"At this price point, the Sandia Hand has the potential to be a disruptive technology. Computers, calculators and cell phones became part of daily life and drastically changed how we do things when the price became affordable. This hand has the same potential, especially given that high-volume production can further reduce the cost."
Lest I forget to pay homage, I can't end this post without putting my fist in the air for a Bomb Squad enlisted in a different army of sorts. They may not have taken apart roadside IEDs, but they certainly dismantled some speakers in their time compliments of their explosive beats. Plus, they were "Louder Than A Bomb."
Credit: Sandia National Laboratories