The sensory and motor capacities of the human hand are reviewed in the context of providing a set of performance characteristics against which prosthetic and dextrous robot hands can be evaluated. The sensors involved in processing tactile, thermal, and proprioceptive (force and movement) information are described, together with details on their spatial densities, sensitivity, and resolution. The wealth of data on the human hand's sensory capacities is not matched by an equivalent database on motor performance. Attempts at quantifying manual dexterity have met with formidable technological difficulties due to the conditions under which many highly trained manual skills are performed. Limitations in technology have affected not only the quantifying of human manual performance but also the development of prosthetic and robotic hands. Most prosthetic hands in use at present are simple grasping devices, and imparting a “natural” sense of touch to these hands remains a challenge. Several dextrous robot hands exist as research tools and even though some of these systems can outperform their human counterparts in the motor domain, they are still very limited as sensory processing systems. It is in this latter area that information from studies of human grasping and processing of object information may make the greatest contribution.

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