German robot maker Festo is having a good week. After thoroughly impressing us with its oddly graceful robot that flies by turning itself inside out, now its robotic manipulator hand grabbed our attention. We’ve seen things like ExoHand before of course, but this exoskeletal control mechanism is unique in its dexterity and the fact that the controllers glove is 3-D printed for precise fit, feel, and control.
The robot arm itself is notably dexterous, enabled by the exoskeletal control glove that’s the real innovation here. It’s made by taking a scan of the user’s hand and printing a custom-fit glove out of polyamide plastic that ensures a custom fit. That in turn helps to not only make the control inputs as precise as possible, but makes the tactile feedback more realistic as well.
Via two-way pneumatics, the user feels what the robot feels via force feedback applied to the user’s hand via the ExoHand glove. So when handling an object with the robotic arm, the user can sense how hard the arm is gripping the object, etc. The robot arm can amplify the force exerted by the user to make it a much stronger analog for the human’s movement, but the super-precise feedback between human and machine allowed by the 3-D printed glove ensures that this boost in strength is kept under perfect control.