The Robot Hand

Make a hand with fingers that work like real fingers.

Who knows where working modle hands might end up? Tony Byron is one of the most gifted teachers I know. The projects on his YouTube channel are eclectic and creative–including his GIANT HAND(below), among other cool parts of a set. At 1:50 it completely engulfs a kid!

Pull the tendons (strings) and they flex the fingers--just like on a real hand.

You can make this robot hand point, grab, and make the peace sign. It's so real in its finger movements that it's almost creepy. Indeed, I get requests to borrow it around halloween. But this project had a pretty serious origin.

I could not lift a finger. I couldn't wiggle my toes. In three days I had gone from perfect health to being paralyzed below my neck. I had been stricken with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a neurological condition.

I missed my hands the most. I know there's an expression about being so familiar with something that I "know it like the back of my hand." But I discovered that for all I depended of them, I didn't understand my hands at all. It wasn't until I lost the use of them that I began to contemplate and appreciate them.

How can it be that we can grab onto a bar and suspend all of our weight with the same fingers that can type on a keyboard or speak with sign language?

Strings! Those big, strong muscles for our fingers are actually out of the way in our forearms.*  They transmit power to the slender bones in our fingers with strings. What ingenious design!

The robot hand we will make doesn't just look kind of real, it works real, the way our real hands work.

I recovered most of my movement over a period of about three years. And as you can see from this site, I love to use my hands to make things more than ever. This science project, though very simplified, is a way to understanding how real hands work and appreciating them without going through some ordeal. It's my tribute to the great mystery of our existence.

* The strings in our body which connect muscle to bones are called "tendons."


I'd like to know how this project goes for you. I'm happy to answer questions about it. Feedback from you is an important way for me to know what works and what needs clarification.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *