A robotics laboratory housed within TU’s Department of Mechanical Engineering has received a federal grant totaling more than $443,000 from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Funding from the National Robotics Initiative was awarded to the Biological Robotics Group at Tulsa (BRAT) to study how robotic hands can execute vital motions through an intricate spring network. The National Robotics Initiative is a collaboration among NASA, U.S. Department of Agriculture, National Institutes of Health and NSF to accelerate the development and use of robots in the United States.
Principal investigator Joshua Schultz, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at TU, will lead BRAT’s project with co-principal investigator and hand surgeon specialist Dr. Gavin O’Mahony from the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and a team of OU hand surgery residents. Michael Martell, a TU mechanical engineering graduate student, will conduct his thesis research on large portions of the project. “The goal is to build a robotic hand that requires each of its motors to move all five fingers in a coordinated way instead of dedicating individual motors to one or two fingers, which results in unnatural motions,” Schultz said.
The interdisciplinary group will configure a robotic spring system to allow the motions of each motor to correspond with the coordinated, human-like motions of multiple fingers. The project’s OU associates will help determine which basic motions are the most important for performing daily tasks. “We want to think beyond engineering techniques and incorporate the principal operations of the human hand,” Schultz said.
Through application of a formal, theoretical approach to robotic hand design, the device is expected to be more useful than earlier models that rely on heuristics. “The robotic hand will activate by superimposing motors’ actions to generate a disposition of dexterity,” Martell said.
BRAT is expected to produce a prototype of the robotic hand by the end of 2015. Schultz said the exclusive TU model eventually will be available for research at other universities. “We plan to pass on the mechanical drawings, hardware, electronic circuitry and software for other studies,” he said. “This hand is a tool that will be a defining feature of robotics research at TU.”