Back to TopThe Challenge
The Botball Research and Design Challenge is a competition offered to high school and middle school students. This year's challenge for students is to research robotic prostheses and to come up with a design or solution. The Botball Design Challenge itself was created to encourage more students to have an interest in the STEM field, which is Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. Today, hundreds of students compete in their regional Botball competition and succeed to move onto the competition at the international level.
In the Design Challenge, the students' goal is not only to research about a specific field of robotic prostheses but also to develop complete designs. For example, students may develop an artificial eye for the visually-impaired. All the design aspects must have a reason for being chosen and used, and that must be clearly explained in a website created by the students. For the entry, students submit in a website with all the requirements of the contest along with a brief description or explanation.
As a result of this competition, students will be able to practice important characteristics such as teamwork, leadership, and cooperation between their peers. These skills will have a lasting impression on students' lives as it will teach life lessons through mistakes made.
For more information, please see the official website.
Back to TopCurrent State of Robotic Hands
Why the hand?
Human hand (credit)
The human hand is an intricate piece of machinery. It can be used to perform a multitude of tasks, especially when well trained to do so. Today, we too often take our hands for granted. In everyday life, most of us do not consciously realize that we are using our hands to conduct actions: such functionalities come to us so naturally that we are able to simply perform motions that have been ingrained into us since we were young. Writing with a writing utensil, grabbing hold of differently shaped objects, or turning a knob are all actions that we perform with our hands. Because we know how to do all of the above concepts, one would think that producing a prosthetic hand to perform the actions would not be incredibly difficult. However, the fact of the matter is quite the contrary.
Capturing the intricacies of the hand in a simple mechanical device is nearly impossible; the functions that would be necessary to replicate are numerous and varied. If you were a sports player or a musician, it would be rather difficult to produce a prosthetic hand that could give you the control of a real hand when intercepting a pass or pressing down keys. That being said, an everyday person who had lost his/her hand could definitely benefit from the use of a prosthetic hand.
According to the National Limb Loss Information Center, approximately 1.7 million people are without some limbs in the United States. In the world, there is an estimated for 10 million people who suffer from limb losses . Losing the hand lowers the quality of the patient's life because the patient would not be able to perform even basic tasks.
What is the state-of-the-art bionic hand? What are the disadvantages?
Touch Bionics i-LIMB (credit)
Currently, the state-of-the-art bionic hand is the i-Limb developed by Touch Bionics . It is a huge step forward in the field as it is the world's first commercial bionic hand. However, the hand is far from perfect. The i-Limb costs over $18,000, making it unaffordable for most people. It costs two to three times more than usual prosthetics. 
Because it uses the MyoElectric control system, which relies on grip patterns, the hand is limited in the actions it can perform. For example, it's not possible, with the i-Limb to type on the keyboard properly. The i-Limb can only do the "one-finger" typing.
The i-Limb does not provide feedback for the patient. In other words, the patient can't feel anything with the i-Limb. The most important of all is that it does not fully resemble a regular human hand. It is not controlled by thought, but rather by stimulation. 
Also, the i-Limb is neither waterproof nor durable. The National Limb Loss Information Center reports that an average prosthetic device has a lifespan of only three years .
Although the i-Limb is a huge step forward for robotic prostheses, there is massive potential in the field for creating a more realistic, affordable, and capable bionic hand.
Are there any other robotic upper limbs under development?
DEKA Robotic Arm (credit)
In 2008 at All Things Digital, Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway, presented a bionic arm that is capable of eighteen degrees of freedom. The arm weighs less than ten pounds and is made up custom motors and titanium. The design is unique in that it can be controlled directly by the mind through the use of infrared sensors that read signals from the skull. Itís also very impressive in terms of the motor precision and the accurate control. A man was shown to be able to pick up a grape without crushing it using the bionic arm. 
Though this bionic arm is not yet commercially available and is still undergoing development, it may be the first ever bionic ďarmĒ commercially available. It is already in testing with veterans that have lost their arms. However, this arm is not perfect. Patients are unable to receive feedback from the robotic prosthesis; they would rely on their eyes to see how their robotic arms are moving. They would not be able to feel temperature nor sense pressure, since the controller only reads the signals and does not send data back.