Dec 5, 2015 | By Kira

For a thirty year period between 1981 and 2011, the Canadarm, or Shuttle Remote Manipulator System, developed by Canada for NASA acted as a 15-meter long human arm, with wrist, elbow and shoulder, that performed various critical tasks for the Space Shuttle Program, including deploying, capturing and repairing satellites, positioning astronauts, maintaining equipment, and moving cargo in outer space, all while its human operators remained safely inside their spacecraft. In 2001, the bigger, smarter, 17-meter long Canadarm2 was launched, and ended up playing an important role in the construction of the International Space Station. In both cases, these anthropomorphic robots were designed to mimic human movements, while performing tasks that, for safety, amongst other reasons, no human could reasonably do.

The not-so-human-like Canadarm

Now, a team of Russian students from the Tomsk Polytechnic University have developed a similarly anthropomorphic robotic hand for use by the ISS, but rather than being 17 or even 15 meters long, their robotic hand is about the same size as a human limb. The 3D printed robotic hand is wirelessly controlled by a sensor glove, and will allow astronauts to perform repairs or other technical operations on the outside of the ISS, without ever having to leave the station. The clever device consists of two parts: a 3D printed ‘manipulator’ in the shape of a hand; and a sensor glove to be worn by a human that controls the manipulator. All information is transmitted wirelessly between the controller and the manipulator.

The robotic hand works much like the motion capture devices worn by actors in order to create digital, CGI-versions of themselves, however rather than just making a digital model move on-screen, this technology allows the robotic hand to move in real life, and to perform highly-skilled, technical operations that are not possible either for autonomous robots, or humans on their own.

The research was commissioned by the Russian Federal Space Agency, which asked students to create a design that would allow the placing of a ‘hand’ on the outer surface of the ISS or other spacecrafts. Beyond the ISS and space applications, however, the researchers see many other potential uses for their ‘handy’ device. “There are many ways in which the manipulator can be used. I can help train patients who need to restore music’s after having suffered a stroke or undergone surgery. If you wear the glove on your good hand and put a patch on the damaged one, it will copy the other hand’s movements and help stretch and tone the muscles,” explained Egor Shelomentsev, head of the research team.

From stroke or accident rehabilitation, to painting or repairing remote objects, human-mimicking technology such as this has great potential, and using 3D printing technology means that each part can be customized for different uses, and produced cheaply and efficiently. Quite similarly, we recently saw Delft Tech graduate Rob Scharff develop a biomimetic, 3D printed soft robotic hand that uses air chambers to sense and actually respond to human pressure, as in a handshake. The next step for the Russian Tomsk Polytechnic University students is to create a robot that can precisely imitate the entire human body.

We’re entering an era in which human-robot interactions just might be the norm of our everyday lives, yet with these 3D printed, anthropomorphic robotic technologies, we can certainly use that to our advantage.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



Maybe you also like:


Michael wrote at 12/8/2015 1:33:18 AM:

The glove is also an instructables. It uses the inMoov hand. Nothing original here.

Brian Johansen wrote at 12/7/2015 11:04:31 AM:

You really have to mention Gael Langevin from who is the designer of the arm. You can download this arm on thingiverse ex. and the russian students sure did not invent this arm!

Andrea wrote at 12/7/2015 1:35:01 AM:

This is the inmoov project!!!

Leave a comment:

Your Name:


Subscribe us to Feeds twitter facebook   

About provides the latest news about 3D printing technology and 3D printers. We are now seven years old and have around 1.5 million unique visitors per month.

News Archive