This story is from the category Augmenting Organics
Date posted: 30/01/2007
In a University of California, Los Angeles laboratory, a mechanical hand less than one millimetre wide deftly plucks a single fish egg from a slippery underwater clutch.
"It is the world's smallest robotic hand, and could be used to perform microsurgery," says Chang-Jin Kim, the lead researcher at UCLA who created this new robotic precision worker. Running on pneumatic gas pressure instead of electrics, the miniature hand is equally at home in atmosphere or submerged in fluid.
The microhand measures one millimetre across when closed into a fist. It consists of four "fingers," each of which is made from six silicon wafers, with polymer balloons doing the work of muscles at the wafers' joints ? in pretty much the exact way a haptic feedback glove?s balloons work.
When a balloon is inflated, the distance between two joints decreases, and the finger flexes inward. Upon deflation, the fingers relax.
"I must say that the microhand is a wonderful achievement," says Albert Pisano, a mechanical engineer at the University of California, Berkeley, and a leader in such research. "The field of microsurgery and minimally invasive surgery is currently dominated by grippers and tools that are mounted at the end of long, rigid aluminium rods. Certainly these are adequate for many purposes, but now that functional microhands have been developed, one can visualise a new set of minimally invasive surgical tools that allow the surgeon additional dexterity in complicated procedures."
While the microhand is probably years from practical use, the UCLA researchers say they are currently working with a firm involved with remote surgery to develop a slightly bigger hand, which will incorporate optical fibres on the palm. The idea, Kim says, is to have a microhand with an "eye." This could be used for seeing and manipulating objects within the human body.
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