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Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos raises his arms (and the robotic arms they’re linked to) at the re:MARS conference in Las Vegas. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

LAS VEGAS — Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’ handshake is at least as firm as a robotic hand’s grip.

I found that out for myself today at Amazon’s inaugural re:MARS conference, when Bezos tried out the touch-sensitive, dexterous robotic arm set up in an exhibit hall at the Aria Resort and Casino here in Las Vegas.

Like the annual invitation-only MARS conference, re:MARS is designed to focus on the frontiers of Machine learning, Automation, Robotics and Space. And robots were the stars of the show when Bezos popped in.

After visiting a smart home exhibit set up to show off what Amazon and iRobot are doing with connected devices, Bezos walked over to the demonstration area set aside for Seattle-based startup HaptX and its partners in the robotic arm project, Shadow Robot Company and SynTouch.

The arm system is meant to be one of the platforms for the ANA Avatar XPRIZE, a competition for teams working on telepresence tools. The operator wears gloves that pick up the movements of the arms, hands and fingers with magnetic sensors. The system sets the robotic arms, hands and fingers moving in parallel.

There are even air-filled tubes running all the way into fingertip pads, so that the forces encountered by the robotic fingers are passed along to the operator’s gloves as objects are grasped. It’s a traditional trick for onlookers to shake hands with the robot, and that’s exactly what I did when I stopped by the exhibit earlier in the day. It didn’t feel like a real handshake, because there was no skin-on-skin sensation.

Bezos’ grip is a lot warmer, which I know from experience. A little more than a year ago I was Bezos’ straight man in a fireside chat at a space conference, so today he recognized me as he strode by and reached out his hand.

“Are you having fun?” he asked as we shook. (I said yes, of course.)

Then it was time for the world’s richest person to put on the gloves. Bezos started out with a simple task: picking up a plastic cup and dropping it onto a stack of cups. Then he played around with a palm-sized soccer ball, and tried his hand at a ring-stacking puzzle.

The guy clearly loved it, as you can see in these tweeted videos:

“OK, this is really cool,” he said.

Then he eyed the Rubik’s Cube puzzle sitting on the table. “You want me to solve that Rubik’s Cube?” he joked. “I can’t even do that with my hands!”

When it was time to move on, Bezos gave one of his trademark hearty laughs.

“That is really impressive,” he said. “The tactile feedback is really tremendous.”

After the gloves came off, one of the spectators asked Bezos how it felt.

“Weirdly natural,” he said.

Will Bezos’ robotic juggling act go as viral as the giant-robot romp he took at 2017’s MARS conference, or his robo-dog walk at 2018’s MARS gathering? Stay tuned …

Today Bezos also threw his Twitter spotlight on Leo Jean Baptiste, one of the first 100 students to benefit from the Amazon Future Engineer program. Each participant in the program receives a $10,000 scholarship for each of four years, plus a guaranteed internship at Amazon.

During his face-to-face chat with Bezos, Jean Baptiste talked about why he has done so well at school — well enough to be going to Stanford University with his scholarship. And yes, the encounter included a Jeff Bezos handshake:

Update for 6:50 p.m. PT June 6: Bezos tweeted out a different, more expertly produced video showing his encounter with the robotic arm system, as well as his visit to check out Rivian’s electric truck (which is backed by an Amazon investment) and the Wyss Institute’s RoboBee:

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