The Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory (AKA the RoMeLa
Project) at the College of Engineering at Virginia Tech has designed and built a prototype robotic hand
that is controlled and operated by compressed air. Called RAPHaEL (Robotic Air Powered Hand with Elastic Ligaments), the robot can hold heavier, solid objects, as well as light or delicate ones such as a light bulb or an egg. The hand is powered by a compressor air tank at 60 psi and an accordion style tube actuator, with microcontroller commands operating and coordinating the movements of its fingers. It uses no other motors, and the strength of the grasp is controlled by a change in air pressure, making the hand quite dextrous. RAPHaEL -- which is part of a larger RoMeLa robot project named CHARLI -- has already won several awards, including grabbing first prize at the 2008-2009 Compressed Air and Gas Institute Innovation Award Contest. RoMeLa researchers envision CHARLI one day roaming the VT campus making friends
with students and visitors. We look forward to that day, but until then, check out RAPHaEL holding some stuff after the break.