If you're into AI and robots, then you no doubt know who Hans Moravec is. He pretty much has set out to make better-than-human machines. I'm not really a robot guy, so I honestly didn't know too much about Hans and his work. Thanks to Jim Gray for tuning me into this. Really brilliant stuff. ( Maybe Hans will help me design TOS: Thinking Operating System :) )
Here's a quote from one of his papers on bush robots that nicely generalizes the notion of fractal hands:
"Once upon a time, the most complex animal was a worm. The stick-like shape was poorly adapted for manipulation and even locomotion. Then these stick-like animals grew smaller sticks, called legs, and locomotion was much improved, although they were still poor at manipulating. Then the smaller sticks grew yet smaller sticks, and hands, with manipulating fingers were invented and precise manipulation of the environment became possible.
Generalize the concept. Visualize a robot that looks like a tree, with a big stem, repeatedly branching into thinner, shorter and more numerous twigs, finally ending up in vast numbers of microscopic cilia. Each intermediate branch would have several degrees of freedom of sensed and controlled motion. Though each branch would be a rigid mechanical object, the overall structure would have an organic flexibility because of the huge numbers of degrees of freedom. At the outer extremes, the machine would have an enormous number of individually positionable and naturally swift manipulators, coordinated for simultaneous execution of otherwise unimaginable tasks by signals and power from the central regions."
Yes, I see.
Check out more of these papers on Bush robots. Enjoy.