iRobot, the company behind the adorable Roomba vacuum cleaner and some less-adorable military security bots, has developed a semi-autonomous hand that can do almost everything your hand can do, just better. Using a Kinect sensor, it can manipulate a key to open a locked door. It can grab all kinds of stuff. Its fingers can lift 50 lbs weights.
Next, it's going to punch its semi-autonomous three-fingered fist right through the future.
That's because the robot hand, which is being developed for DARPA with assistance from researchers at Yale and Harvard, will eventually be entirely autonomous. It's part of the Autonomous Robotic Manipulation project, which DARPA describes thusly:
"Current robotic manipulation systems save lives and reduce casualties, but are limited when adapting to multiple mission environments and need burdensome human interaction and lengthy time durations for completing tasks."
Alas, that "burdensome human interaction" that's always getting in the way of more perfect robot performance may not be a burden for long.
"ARM seeks to enable autonomous manipulation systems to surpass the performance level of remote manipulation systems that are controlled directly by a human operator," DARPA explains.
Right now, the machine's current setup "incorporates some autonomous capability," but "the hand still requires an operator for manipulation of objects in its fingers," according to the Singularity Hub.
The allure of a powerful, dextrous, and autonomous robot hand to police squads, the military, and security forces makes sense—if robots can open the locked doors perps and/or combatants are hiding behind, so much the better for the side that wants to get that door open. It also means that we're ceding one more inch of control over to a powerful, dextrous machine.
But such is the future! Come hither, robot hand; I'd like to shake thee.