Engineers Have Created a Gecko-Inspired Hand That Can Hold an Egg

Firm, but gentle.
Loukia Papadopoulos

In the past, we have brought you many stories of engineers developing robotic hands. These hands can do a variety of things such as sense touch, teach themselves to move, and even pass the first level of Super Mario Bros. in less than 90 seconds.

Now, Stanford engineers have created a new robotic hand, designed with finger pads that can grip like a gecko in order to be able to grip at just the right strength, according to the publication in Science Robotics

"Anthropomorphic robotic manipulators have high grasp mobility and task flexibility but struggle to match the practical strength of parallel jaw grippers. Gecko-inspired adhesives are a promising technology to span that gap in performance, but three key principles must be maintained for their efficient usage: high contact area, shear load sharing, and evenly distributed normal stress," write the authors in their study. "This work presents an anthropomorphic end effector that combines those adhesive principles with the mobility and stiffness of a multiphalange, multifinger design."

Leading this project is Stanford engineering professor Mark Cutkosky and he has one key attribute to his new hand: sticky fingers. In this case, “sticky" is not the kind of sticky to be found in duct tape but rather a substance that takes advantage of the attraction between tiny molecules and imitates real-life gecko fingers. 

This novel artificial gecko adhesive doesn't stick to everything. It only works if you pull it in a certain direction. This means it works very well for climbing which is what Cutkosky's lab initially used it for. The researchers however have been trying to come up for years with a new application for the material. Grasping with a robot hand may just be the most ideal yet. 

The new hand is soft enough to pick up an egg but hard enough not to let it fall. And that's a hard balance to strike.

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