NASA Langley Research Center developed a hyperdextrous robotic arm with lightweight joints that provide a wide range of motion. The tendon-articulated manipulator joints are actuated by capstans or winches located along the boom. This configuration offers significant mechanical advantage and improved efficiency over existing arms that use weighty gearboxes and motors. The arm joints have very high structural efficiency and significantly reduce manipulator mass while achieving a high level of joint stiffness. To further reduce weight while maintaining strength, stiff truss structures replace tubular links or booms between joints.
The design provides a long reach and numerous degrees of freedom. The inherent mechanical advantage provided by the tendon articulation allows the use of small, efficient motor systems. The manipulator can be scaled over a large range from 10 m (load-bearing arm) to over 1000 m (submersible or float-supported arm). Current efforts are focusing on a 15-m prototype and a 300-m subsystem to test the unique robotic architecture.
The arm — ideal for use in aquatic environments or for manipulation of light terrestrial loads — requires minimal storage space when packaged and can be easily transported. The design can be tailored for applications of varying reach, dexterity, or environmental requirements.
An algorithm was also developed to scale the arm based on tip load, reach, and tip deflection inputs for any given application. The design can be extended by the addition of articulating joints and degrees of freedom for improved arm dexterity.