A little of that human touch …Sunday, June 24th, 2012 by Roberto Saracco
No, it is not about Springsteen, it is about robots and the invention of an artificial touch sensor for robots developed by researchers of the University of South California.
So far robots have been equipped with a few sensors to be able to pick up things and graduate the strength (there is quite a difference of pressure allowed in picking up an egg or a brick…) but they had no feeling for the texture of the object they were touching. A robot cannot tell you if a surface is soft or rough, if it i wet or dry, something we are very good at detecting with our finger.
The researchers have created an artificial finger-tip by embedding a variety of sensors into a soft cover with ridges, just like our fingers, filled with a dense liquid.
The movement of this “finger-tip” on a surface create vibrations (through the ridges) that are picked up by a central hydrophone. Vibrations are specific of certain surfaces so the computer receiving the data from the hydrophone can detect the type of surface. The sensors just below the soft skin provide additional information, like pressure and heat. All of this combined let the computer to analyze in a very precise way the surface and identify it with a precision exceeding the one of a human being.
Interestingly, the computer has been designed to learn how a surface feels like. Researchers made it touch 117 different materials and learn how they feel like.
The computer has also been programmed to tell the robot “how to touch” a surface and how to move on the surface as data are collected, exactly like anyone of us is unconsciously doing when touching a surface and trying to detect what it might be.
Equipped with this knowledge the computer can identify surfaces with an astonishing precision.
Take a look at what their creators are saying …