Such machines have, in the past, often relied on precise image sensing to determine the exact size and shape of an object, in order to configure their digits perfectly before attempting to pick it up.
The SDM hand is a lot more forgiving. The pulley system at play distributes equal tension to the fingers in an adaptive transmission that allows motion to continue in other fingers, should one’s movement be hampered. The joints themselves are extremely compliant as well, adapting and conforming to the shape of an object, thanks in part to their ability to pivot in three dimensions.
The Shape Deposit Manufacturing technology used to create the fingers, meanwhile, adds an important level of durability, letting Howe bang them against a table (a trick he happily performed for us) and expose them to water — both features that are quite often absent in more complex (and far more expensive) models.
The SDM technology, developed at Stanford, allows for the creation of fingers that are a single piece, with their parts embedded in plastic. The larger model shown off by Howe serves as great visual when describing the benefits of the single motor system, but the team has also developed a smaller version, with the requisite motors embedded in a far more compact chassis, which we also got a peek at.