Robotic technology has come a long way over the last two decades, with smarter machines capable of performing superhuman feats that were once considered impossible. Robots are great at doing things that humans can not, but giving machines the ability to mimic humans instead of going beyond them has been a very interesting challenge.
One of the ways that robots tend to default when compared to other meat creatures is their sense of touch. You can create a human-made metal and plastic hand very well, but our flesh allows us to manipulate things held in the way that robots often can not. Now, a new software robot concept could help change that, and to be honest, it seems rather scary.
The robot "BionicSoftHand" is pneumatic, which means that it works largely thanks to the pressurized air. The outer skin is soft and mimics human flesh, while the air-filled chambers that make up the fingers allow it to grab and manipulate objects in the same way as a human hand.
These softer hands are also equipped with touch sensors that allow the software that controls it to detect the touch. All information collected by hand is processed on the fly via an integrated motherboard over the palm.
The machine learning algorithms teach by hand how to manipulate various objects by trial and error. He learns from his mistakes and can become more suited to handling objects of various shapes over time. The company behind the hand, Festo, shows a number of his abilities in a short demonstration video that may very well give you a nightmare or two.
The hand is only one of the elements of a vast robotics effort undertaken by Festo. The company is also working on flexible bionic "arms" that can lift a lot of weight, and Festo imagines that such systems are useful in applications where humans might need "a third hand".