Robotic arms are generally not subtle machines. You wouldn’t send one out to stack your best china. But a new prototype from MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory might change that. CSAIL’s 3-D printed robotic hand is dextrous enough to handle even the most delicate of items [PDF].

The hand is made out of silicone rubber, with three fingers that bend and stretch around whatever it’s picking up. Sensors help the bot estimate the size and shape of the object and figure out its location in order to grip it. The robotic hand can pick up an egg without cracking it, can handle different shapes and sizes from a Rubik’s cube to a tennis ball, and can grasp something as thin as a CD and as soft as a stuffed animal. 

The fingers stretch according to the amount of pressurized air pushed through them. When picking up a larger object, like a tennis ball, the hand can be programmed to envelop the entire object. When it’s something very small, like a CD the robot is sliding off a table, the robot can also pinch the object between the tips of its fingers. 

The robot was presented this week at the International Conference on Intelligent Robots and Systems. Watch it in action in the video below.

[h/t: Popular Science]