Prensilia Developing Robot Hands for Research, Prosthetics

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By Christian Cipriani

Researchers have long been trying to build robotic hands that mimic the extraordinary capabilities of the human hand. The goal has been a device with size and weight similar to our own hands, capable of performing multiple grasping motions, and powered by advanced controllers. Such robot hands could help to advance important research areas, such as prosthetics, neural engineering, rehabilitation, humanoid robotics, and human-machine interfaces.

At the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna in Pisa, Italy, a group of researchers has been working on robotic hand technology since the early 1990s, when Prof. Paolo Dario (a former IEEE RAS president and recipient of the Engelberger Award) joined the university.

It was there that, in 2006, I first met fellow graduate student Marco Controzzi. Marco studied mechanical engineering, and I studied electrical engineering. We both got involved in projects focusing on upper limb prosthetics and humanoid robotics under the supervision of Prof. Maria Chiara Carrozza. In 2008, we developed a robotic hand called the SmartHand. It would become the starting point of Prensilia, the startup we would found the following year.

With this first prototype we demonstrated that dexterous self-contained robotic hands could be built. SmartHand featured all of the required mechanics and electronics embedded in the palm. At that point we realized that sophisticated robot hands could have applications in many different areas and presented real commercial possibilities.

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