February 4, 2021

JamesChang TsingHuaRobot400x275An interdisciplinary research team from Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University (NTHU) has developed a robot that can imitate the meticulous movements of a human hand. With sharp senses of vision and touch, the robot’s hands are nimble enough to catch a ball and pull out a tissue. The goal of the robot is to apply these to nursing and rehabilitation applications, which require more agility than robots used in manufacturing.

Completely designed and manufactured in Taiwan, the dexterous two-handed robot is called the “Tsing-Hua Gentlemen” by NHTU President Hocheng Hong, who said it will be destined to play a leading role in the field of medical care. The research team was led by Professor James Chang (pictured) of the Department of Power Mechanical Engineering. The team applied advances in AI, biomechanics, and human-factor engineering on the robot.

A unique feature of the robot is that one hand provides strength while the other is highly nimble. Chang said a nimble hand is required in most medical application work, such as in a COVID-19 test where a hand needs to be nimble enough to gently operate a cotton swab in and out of a person’s nostril or throat. Overcoming the limitation of six-jointed robotic arms, Chang’s robotic arm has seven joints, which enable agile movements in ways that a human arm can’t. However, the robot does imitate the movement of a human hand, with a level of dexterity reached by digitizing a human hand’s motion, making the robotic hands nimble enough to hold a baby or turn over a bed-ridden patient.

Chang said the robot utilizes pneumatic transmission to control its movement with a U.S.-patented precise pressure sensing device that responds to changes of magnetic force. Comparing to robots that require a separate sensor for each direction, this robotic hand has only one sensor for multi-direction sensing, making it more like a human hand. With a 3D visual system that scans surrounding objects over a wide range, the robot possesses a sense of space and the ability to use AI to identify objects.

Chang, who holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University, previously worked at IBM specializing in mechatronics and robotics. After returning to Taiwan, he met and collaborated with a primary schoolmate, Yu-Cheng Pei, a rehabilitation physician at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, to develop assistive devices for use by patients with impaired hand function.

The initial impetus for developing the robot came from Chang’s wife, who saw a robot on TV that could cook food. “I told her it was just an animation, but her request was so earnest that I promised to invent a real robot that could really cook for us,” said Chang.

Taiwan’s population is expected to be “super-aged” by 2025, Chang said, so the team is aiming to develop a robot capable of performing several services required by the elderly, as well as doing tasks like cooking and washing the dishes.