Engineering students at Virgina Tech’s Robotics and Mechanisms Laboratory  have crafted a super-sensitive robotic hand prototype that would have Darth Vader green with envy. The artificial hand, nicknamed RAPHaEL, is sensitive enough to grip an egg and demonstrates the digital dexterity required for communicating in sign language. It’s powered by a 60 psi air compressor, allowing it to eschew complicated parts like motors. In addition to making the hand simpler and easier to maintain, this also drives the cost of the cost of the robot limb way down. And it’s accordion style actuator and air flow controls allow for the designs award winning dexterity and let it follow the contours of objects it’s gripping more easily and accurately.

Meanwhile, researchers in Germany are taking a different approach to developing increased touch sensitivity in robots.  They’re applying a new generation of strain gauges, each about half the width of a human hair and printed with nanoparticles designed to detect and react to minute changes in pressure, to the tactile surfaces of robots working underwater on oil derricks or other projects. The hope is that the increased tactile sense will allow robots to more accurately sense their environment and guide themselves autonomously in treacherous underwater work situations.