The human ability to grasp objects is an amazing feature of our bodies which we seamlessly integrate into our daily lives. Google is conducting research on how to replicate this feature, and as expected, replicating what we do easily is not so simple.

This post will not highlight a specific product but I would like to review a few important terms and concepts, as so much of robotics is currently shifting toward replicating what we can do with our hands.

Stereognosis: When you reach into your bag and look for your wallet, how do you determine, in seconds, that it is your wallet without having to look at it? Now, when you look for a coin in the wallet, how do you know that you are about to pull out a dime versus a penny? The concept of being able to recognize 3D objects with the sensory feedback from our hands is stereognosis. We know what we are holding without having to use visual cues. It’s phenomenal, and extremely difficult to reproduce due to the involved sensory and neural feedback that is required.

Weight anticipation:  Anticipation of forces is a very important concept in lifting and grasping. You may go through the same motion of lifting a heavy suitcase or a light grocery bag, but the amount of force that you recruit will be very different. Without much effort, we size objects up before we lift them and our brains tell our muscles to recruit the appropriate amount of force to move something. It is how we conserve energy; you don’t need the full force of your bicep to lift a light pencil. It is also how we move efficiently and save our body from injury.

In robots, this anticipation is difficult due to the limited experience, vision, and the possibly simple neural network of a robot.

Grasp: The human ability to use our fingers to pick something up is complicated and involved. Our precision, ability to use tactile cues, the involved sensation and neural network connected to our skin, and our quick ability to adapt and respond to objects means that a seemingly simple task is actually very difficult for a robot to replicate.

Robotics is currently in a very exciting time, with the applications for robotics growing. And as we use more products to enhance our work and daily activities, we find that we are the models and gold standard for the products being created.