Lighter, faster, cheaper components and lowering power usage and costs by at least 20 times will trigger a true robotic revolution

Rethinking the components used in advanced prototypes such as Atlas to reduce cost and power consumption has become a major focus in robotics research as engineers seek to finally have these machines escape the lab, says Rich Mahoney, SRI’s director of robotics. “We got things that are overdesigned because there’s not been impetus for low cost and good design,” he says.

Several low-cost robotic hands recently emerged from another DARPA program called ARM-H. By achieving greater complexity at lower costs, these hands could help Baxter or Unbounded’s robots perform new tasks. Roomba manufacturer iRobot worked with Harvard and Yale to create a three-fingered hand that can do anything from holding a basketball to picking up a key lying flat on a table.

If it were made in quantities of a few thousand, the hand should cost around $3,000, says Mark Claffee, principal robotics engineer at iRobot, which also makes military and telepresence robots. “It’s a dramatic change,” Claffee says, as the current going rate for a robotic hand with similar capabilities starts at around $35,000.