Dexterous robotic hands are expensive, costing hundreds of thousands of dollars, due to the cost of components, challenging assembly procedures, and relatively small manufacturing quantities.
In a DARPA-funded project, collaborating with LUNAR and Stanford University, Sandia developed a dexterous robotic hand that would cost significantly less than traditional robotic hands.
Additive manufacturing played two key roles in the development of the hand. In the design and prototype stages, it allowed parts to be quickly fabricated and tested, facilitating rapid design iterations. Approximately 50% of the Sandia-hand components are 3D printed. Additionally, due to the anthropomorphic design of the hand, many of the parts have complex geometries, which are difficult to manufacture using traditional methods, including components of the fingers which were fabricated using a laser powder bed. The inclusion of additive manufacturing permitted the hand to be created at a substantially lower price.
The Sandia Hand itself consists of a frame that supports a set of identical finger modules that magnetically attach and detach from the hand frame. The finger modules consist of several sensor systems that enable the hand to perform complex manipulation tasks and is supported by several imaging systems to increase function and performance.
The hand addresses challenges that have prevented widespread adoption of other robotic hands, such as cost, durability, dexterity, and modularity. 3D printing was a key enabler in cost-effective creation of the hand. Major cost reductions were achieved through a combination of inexpensive components, simplified assembly and maintenance procedures, and additive manufacturing methods.