Human-like robotic hands have long been restricted to the realm of science fiction, but German scientists have now developed a bionic hand made from soft materials that has the dexterity required to pick up objects.

The fingers made of soft materials such as silicone and rubber are inflated with compressed air, which gives them special abilities that make them different from traditional electromechanical actuators built of motors, gears, joints and links.

The bionic hand was unveiled at the Robotics Science and Systems (RSS) conference in Berlin with Ph.D student Raphael Deimel giving a demonstration of its functionality.

The use of air compression technology means that the flexibility of fingers depends on the size of the object being grasped.

“The hand doesn’t require any sensor technology,” said Mr. Deimel, and it can pick up a variety of objects ranging from pens to sunglasses to bottles and clothes.

“The soft hand doesn’t damage the surface of the object it is lifting,” Mr. Deimel said. The robust material is also unaffected by heat, boiling water or sand.

Mr. Deimel and Oliver Brock, his professor at the Robotics and Biology Laboratory at Berlin’s TU University, have also published a construction guide on the internet so amateur that robot makers can try out the technology themselves.

The soft material bionic hands are relatively simple to construct and much cheaper than robotic hands made from metal, which can cost upwards of 100,000 dollars, explained Mr. Deimel.

By contrast, the materials needed to create a silicone hand cost 400 to 600 dollars. However, so far they are only capable of carrying objects that weigh less than 500 grams.

“The vision is that one day robots will be able to help people in their lives. They could bring objects from point A to B, for example, look for lost keys or clean up rooms.” said Mr. Deimel.

He admitted that the bionic hand will not be able to match the dexterity of a human hand any time in the near future. “The technology works a lot of the time but not always,” he added.

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