Designers of robotic hands and clamps all have a common foe: the heirloom tomato. Robotic grippers have been presented that can pluck an egg or pick up a basketball, but one gripper is unlikely to be able to do both. This means that products in this ‘middle ground’ are still a key challenge.

Wilson Ruotolo, 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 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’s 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.