Skip to content Skip to navigation

Stanford engineers develop a robotic hand with a gecko-inspired grip

A robot holds an egg.
Dec 15 2021
Faculty, Fellow, Research, Stanford

Across a vast array of robotic hands and clamps, there is a common foe: the heirloom tomato. You may have seen a robotic gripper deftly pluck an egg or smoothly palm a basketball – but, unlike human hands, one gripper is unlikely to be able to do both and a key challenge remains hidden in the middle ground.

“You’ll see robotic hands do a power grasp and a precision grasp and then kind of imply that they can do everything in between,” said Wilson Ruotolo, PhD ’21, a former graduate student in the Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab at Stanford University. “What we wanted to address is how to create manipulators that are both dexterous and strong at the same time.”

The result of this goal is “farmHand,” a robotic hand developed by engineers Ruotolo and Dane Brouwer, a graduate student in the Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab, at Stanford (aka “the Farm”) and detailed in a paper published Dec. 15 in Science Robotics. In their testing, the researchers demonstrated that farmHand is capable of handling a wide variety of items, including raw eggs, bunches of grapes, plates, jugs of liquids, basketballs and even an angle grinder.

FarmHand benefits from two kinds of biological inspiration. While the multi-jointed fingers are reminiscent of a human hand – albeit a four-fingered one – the fingers are topped with gecko-inspired adhesives. This grippy but not sticky material is based on the structure of gecko toes and has been developed over the last decade by the Biomimetics and Dextrous Manipulation Lab, led by Mark Cutkosky, the Fletcher Jones Professor in the School of Engineering, who is also senior author of this research.

Using the gecko-adhesive on a multi-fingered, anthropomorphic gripper for the first time was a challenge, which required special attention to the tendons controlling the fingers of farmHand and the design of the finger pads below the adhesive

Study co-author, Dane Brouwer, is a 2019 SGF Fellow.

Read the full article