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  1. Grasping a simple object from the side is easy --- unless the object is almost as big as the hand or space constraints require positioning the robot hand awkwardly with respect to the object. We show that humans --- when faced with this challenge --- adopt coordinated finger movements which enable them to successfully grasp objects even from these awkward poses. We also show that it is relatively straight forward to implement these strategies autonomously. Our human-studies approach asks participants to perform grasping task by either ``puppetteering'' a robotic manipulator that is identical~(geometrically and kinematically) to a popular underactuated robotic manipulator~(the Barrett hand), or using sliders to control the original Barrett hand. Unlike previous studies, this enables us to directly capture and compare human manipulation strategies with robotic ones. Our observation is that, while humans employ underactuation, how they use it is fundamentally different (and more effective) than that found in existing hardware.
  2. Bistable electroactive polymers (BSEP) combine shape memory with large-strain actuation at the rubbery state to achieve rigid-to-rigid actuation. The stiffness of the BSEP is tunable via glass transition or phase changing. The reversible melting-crystallization of the polymer chains in the phase changing BSEP contributes to the stiffness change within a narrow temperature range. A modulus change of more than 1000 folds can be achieved within 3 °C. Additionally, large actuation strains rivaling those of VHB acrylic elastomers can be obtained at the rubbery state. Explorations regarding potential applications of this material have been focused on tactile displays. In one design, Joule heating of a serpentine-shaped compliant electrode coated on a BSEP film, coupled with a pneumatic pressure source has been employed to raise diaphragm dots with 1.5 mm base diameter to heights up to 0.7 mm. The resulting Braille electronic readers could thus be actuated with low voltages.