The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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MIE Seminar Series: “Mechanical Intelligence” in Robotic Manipulation: Towards Human-level Dexterity in Robotic and Prosthetic Hands


Friday, September 30, 2016 - 10:00am


Aaron Dollar, Associate Professor, Yale University


Kellogg Room, Elab II

Volunteers Needed: 

The human hand is the pinnacle of dexterity – it has the ability to powerfully grasp a wide range of object sizes and shapes as well as delicately manipulate objects held within the fingertips. Current robotic and prosthetic systems, however, have only a fraction of that manual dexterity. My group attempts to address this gap in two main ways: the mechanical design of effective hands and the study of human hand function and use as inspiration and performance benchmarking. In terms of hand design, we strongly prioritize passive mechanics, including incorporating adaptive underactuated transmissions and carefully tuned compliance, and seek to maximize open-loop performance while minimizing complexity. To motivate and benchmark our efforts, we are examining human hand usage during daily activities as well as quantifying functional aspects such as precision manipulation workspaces. Besides describing these efforts, I will touch on other work in the lab related to legged robots, novel fabrication techniques, modular robots, and the study of non-human “hands”.

Aaron Dollar is the recipient of  this year's College Junior Alumni Award, and is a tenured Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science at Yale University. After graduating from Tewksbury Memorial High School, he matriculated to UMass Amherst, where he eventually earned a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering, graduating Magna cum Laude with Departmental Honors. He wrote a bachelor’s thesis based on research done under the supervision of Prof. Don Fisher, was a teaching assistant for Thermodynamics I (MIE 230) and Honors Introduction to Mechanical and Industrial Engineering (MIE 113H), and worked on campus in a number of capacities for the Honors Program, Facilities and Campus Services, and as a Resident Assistant. After graduating, he went on to graduate school at Harvard, earing S.M. and Ph.D. degrees in Engineering Sciences, after which he conducted two years of Postdoctoral research at the MIT Media Lab. Professor Dollar directs the Yale GRAB Lab, conducting research on topics including human and robotic grasping and dexterous manipulation, mechanisms and machine design, and assistive and rehabilitation devices including upper-limb prosthetics and lower-limb orthoses, and has published nearly 150 peer-reviewed research papers on those topics. He is the recipient of the 2014 NASA Early Career Faculty Award, 2013 DARPA Young Faculty Award, 2011 Air Force Office of Scientific Research Young Investigator Award, the 2010 Technology Review TR35 Young Innovator Award, the 2010 National Science Foundation CAREER Award, First Place in the Graduate Division of the 2006 ASME Student Mechanism Design Competition, as well as a number of Best Paper Awards and nominations. He is a strong advocate of open source methods of research and teaching dissemination, having created and freely distributed many of his own resources including the Yale OpenHand Project,,, and a number of open datasets.


He lives near New Haven, Connecticut with his wife, Noelle, and their two young children.