If you’re the kind of person who reads blogs about science fiction, then odds are you already know what a Dalek is.  For those of you who don’t, Daleks are aliens from the British TV show Doctor Who.  They’re green, slimy creatures living inside metal shells with an eyestalk and two appendages.

Despite the fact that they’re responsible for a great deal of death and destruction, Daleks are kind of silly looking.  One of their appendages looks suspiciously like a plunger. Doctor Who was a low budget show.

But maybe low budget sci-fi from the 60’s isn’t as silly as we thought.  Researchers have developed a new robotic hand that relies on suction to pick stuff up.  Most robotic hands imitate human hands, but computers can’t manage all those fingers the way our brains do.  I guess fingers and emotions have something in common.

The new design uses a beanbag that shapes itself around an object.  A little suction inside the bag forces it to squeeze around the object, allowing a robot to pick it up.  The beanbag hand works so well that a robot could pour drinks, use tools, and even write with a pen.  Best of all, this seems even more ridiculous than Dalek plunger hands.  At least plungers could be used as a weapon, but who’d expect to be attacked with a beanbag?

The lesson for science fiction writers is this: no idea is too stupid to be impossible.  The most evil aliens in the galaxy just might have plungers for hands.  Or beanbags.


Minogue, Kristen.  “Robot ‘Hands’ Write Without Fingers.”  Science October 25, 2010. http://news.sciencemag.org/sciencenow/2010/10/robot-hands-write-without-finger.html?ref=wp

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