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August 13, 2021

Mechanical Hands With Remote Control: GE Master-Slave Manipulator by John Payne, 1948

The village blacksmith of Longfellow may have had “muscles like iron bands,” but scientist John Payne of General Electric has done him one better; he has arms and hands made of steel, and what’s more, he can operate his from the next room.

Designed for use by re-mote control in radioactive areas, a pair of mechanical hands can do everything human hands can and more. The hands extend over a protective wall into the radiation area while the operator controls them from a safe place. Most movements are mechanical, being controlled by linkages with the handles, but wrist action is electrical. This permits the wrist to twist around completely any number of hand that consists of a pair of snips instead times, a feat which is particularly useful of hooks. Control of the hands is so sensitive that a gentle squeeze can be applied to break the shell of a hard-boiled egg without damaging its contents.

John Payne’s device has an important function of course; with it he can handle remotely the hot, radioactive materials used in atomic research at Knolls Atomic Power Laboratory at Schenectady, NY. His “hands” can perform delicate chemical experiments, operate machine tools and do countless other tasks involving great dexterity. In use the metal manipulators extend over a wall impervious to the harmful radiations, and reach into the radio-active area to handle the material.  The operator remains in a separate control room and atches the operation by means of mirrors.

A model having her cigarette lit by a “Master-Slave Manipulator” for remotely working with radioactive materials, Schenectady, NY, 1948.


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