Creating a Helping Hand

Ritika Ghosh talks about the complexities that made her MSR independent project a challenge and the lessons she learned on the journey to success.

The human hand has 24 muscles, 27 bones, 29 major joints, 30 arteries, 48 nerves, and at least 123 ligaments.  

All those numbers added up to one giant challenge for Ritika Ghosh, a student in Northwestern Engineering's Master of Science in Robotics (MSR) program.  

For her winter-quarter independent project, Ghosh (MSR ‘23) used a robotic hand to emulate the movements of a human hand and used finger recognition to grasp objects varying in size from a pen to a water bottle.   

Her project choice had elements of both nostalgia and practicality behind it.  

“My childhood memories of playing the copycat game, where I mirrored someone's movements, sparked the initial inspiration for this project,” Ghosh said. “I envisioned a robotic hand that could be useful in various fields, such as robotics surgery, space exploration, and performing tasks in hazardous environments.”  

The independent project gives MSR students the freedom to spend a quarter working on a topic of personal interest.  

Ghosh went into the project with eyes wide open about its complexity. 

With the twin goals of having her robot mimic a human hand’s movement and grasping objects of varying sizes, Ghosh found herself working on multiple systems. In the process, she gained a deeper appreciation for her own hands.   

“One aspect that truly caught my attention was the remarkable intricacy and delicacy of the movements of our fingers,” she said. “Even the simplest of actions require a complex series of motions from multiple joints and muscles, something that we usually take for granted.” 

Ghosh found it beneficial to bounce ideas off her classmates to get fresh perspectives when she found herself weighed down by an obstacle, making her success a shared experience.  

She described the moment when her robotic creation first closely replicated her hand’s movement as “exhilaration.” 

“I must have jumped out of my seat, startling my peers in the process,” she said. “It's always a shared moment of excitement whenever any of us achieves any kind of tangible results.”  

Ghosh went on to showcase her creation at the Robot Block Party at Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry this spring. The event is open to the public and gives people an opportunity to get up close and personal with student-designed robots.  

“People of all ages – children and adults – were able to interact with my project,” she said. “The enthusiasm and excitement of the people who tried it out truly boosted my confidence and gave me a great sense of accomplishment.”  

Ghosh has taken that confidence with her as she advances in the MSR program. She said finding success through her own ideas and hard work made her realize that robotics is her passion — and taught her valuable lessons in the process. 

“This project has taught me how to tackle unexpected challenges and be adaptable,” she said. “I have learned that things don't always go according to plan. The ability to pivot and adjust my approach when necessary is a critical skill that will serve me well in my future work.”  


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