INTERVIEW by EVA RECINOS | PHOTOGRAPHY by HIROKAZU AMANO
The future has long been associated with flying cars, instant meals, and robots. And while we aren’t necessarily there yet, there are some innovative, out-of-this-world products that are pushing technology into completely new realms. One example is the Handroid – a robotic hand controlled with only a glove. Wiggle your fingers within the glove and the Handroid wiggles with you – each individual finger mirroring your exact movement. Shintaro Iwata, head of the project and Chief Technology Officer of ITK (a Japanese Research and Development company that focuses on medical machinery) hopes that it will be useful in dangerous situations where a human hand cannot be used. This technology continues to develop, and Iwata stresses that he has plans to further improve Handroid to operate easily as a prosthetic hand.
What exactly is the Handroid?
Our very first Handroid was a prosthetic, so it’s designed to be put on a human arm where human hands are not available. You’d stick the Handroid onto a human arm, put a glove-type controller on, move your fingers, and see it replicate that movement. We hope this Handroid will be used in the areas that human hands cannot reach, such as in case of disasters, or aerospace machinery and activity in space. The seventh prototype of the Handroid is now under development.
How is it built?
We first design everything and then build it up by hand.
How long does it take to build and design?
We spent about a month designing it, and about a month and a half manufacturing it. To build it up only really takes a day or two. It’s the planning that takes longer, as we keep changing the design rotate the process from designing, manufacturing, and building, over and over again.
How did the idea of making the Handroid come about?
A university professor talked to us about manufacturing a prosthetic hand operable by electromyogram. Then, we started making the hand, which was the very first prototype of the Handroid. We wanted to apply that to other situations too, such as a disaster scenario wherebythe human hand cannot reach something, but a human hand is still needed.
We thought that if the Handroid could expand the versatility of its usage, without restricting it only to being a prosthetic hand, there will be more demand from various fields. The main concept of the Handroid is “not to restrict the range of usage” and “users decide how they use it.” The current prototype is controlled by a glove-type controller, but because it can be expanded to various ways to be used, it can be reconstructed to be controlled by programming, or electromyogram.
How long has it been since the first prototype?
The first prototype was made about three years ago with Tokyo University, but after a year, after a couple of prototypes were made, because our main business got really busy, we left the Handroid project for a year, then we came back with a different concept. The different concept was to make it lighter, smaller, cheaper, and applicable to many different purposes.
Who are you hoping will buy the Handroid?
Robotic hands can only be developed by certain R&D organizations, as it costs a lot. If we can deliver our Handroid at a low price, many more R&D organizations, even industrial high schools, can research or experiment using Handroid. We hope it will eventually produce a lot of new ideas and can bring up robot engineers. We are also hoping to deliver Handroid as arm parts for humanoid robots to various R&D organizations. Ultimately, we would like to manufacture a better Handroid, increasing the number of joints, and deliver as prosthetic hands.
What separates the Handroid from other hands?
Usually these robot hands are manufactured to be able to operate exactly the same as our human hands, but it’s costly. You have to put so many things in the Handroid joints, but it makes the robot hand pretty heavy and expensive, too. We restrict some functions, then it makes the hand cheaper and lighter. That’s the main difference from the ones already marketed.
Will the Handroid be available all over the world?
Yes, sure! We are actually planning to put it into the market within two years in Japan first, and if anybody who is abroad is interested in buying it, we are willing to sell it all over the world.
Some companies from the United States, India, countries from Europe such as Germany, Belgium, the U.K., are interested in the Handroid, but we are still waiting for a better version.
How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
We hope the Handroid can attract people’s interest, and we’d like readers to look at the Handroid’s progress and visit our website. We are hoping that many people will know the Handroid, and if we say “humanoid hand,” everybody thinks of the name Handroid first.