Mechanical Prototyping Made Fun at Olin with Recent Robotic Hand Competition

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Olin College of Engineering class made more fun and challenging through end-of-semester "Underactuated Hand' competition.

The success of a given design doesn't depend on one student having knowledge that's not available to anyone else – it depends on their ability to master the skills taught in the class...

Mechanical Engineer and Professor Aaron Hoover wanted to make his Mechanical Prototyping class at Olin College of Engineering more fun and challenging so last year he started the end-of the-semester “Underactuated Hand” competition among his students. Underactuated hands are a class of mechanically simple hand designs that can be surprisingly effective at grasping a variety object shapes and sizes from keys to basketballs.

Robots are increasingly being introduced into more complex and uncertain environments, ranging from the average person's home to disaster sites, such as Fukushima, Japan. One of the great challenges for these robots is grasping and manipulation of objects with unknown or variable shapes from door handles to hand tools to chunks of rubble.

“I wanted a challenge that had relevance in the real world but was accessible,” says Hoover. “The success of a given design doesn't depend on one student having knowledge that's not available to anyone else – it depends on their ability to master the skills taught in the class, from visualization, mechanical design, iterative prototyping to debugging, and multi-material fabrication.”

This year’s top point scorers were Team Wonk (Left to Right: Brendan Quinlivan of Rutland, MA; Janaki Perera of Jacksonville, FL; Jeff Holzgrafe of Austin, TX; and Dante Santos of Belmont, MA) who were able to lift, raise, place down and release a basketball, ice cube and barbell at various speeds. Their total score was based on performance related to size, mass, dexterity and aesthetics.

YouTubeVideo on Robotic Hand Competition

Team Wonk Photo (Photo Credit: Johannes Santen)

Link to Mechanical Prototyping Work Site

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Michelle Davis
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