Not a human touchFriday, August 3rd, 2012 by Roberto Saracco
Researchers are perfecting technologies to be able to replicate our sense of touch, for a robot and for ourselves.
For the first time a team of researchers working in the VII European Framework Program have managed to create an artificial finger that mimics quite well the set of data that one of our finger will pick up by touching a surface.
There are several technologies involved. First of all, of course, you need to have very tiny sensors that independently can capture irregularities in the surface being touched and transform them into data. Then you need to “integrate” the single sensitivity in a set, like it happens with our finger. For that the researchers use a synthetic skin that is layered over the sensors. Then you have to translate the row data into signals that can be transmitted and then interpreted by … a computer or a brain.
Indeed, since they aim at creating an artificial finger that can be used by a robot (a computer) and a human who has lost the hands (a brain), the data have to be adapted to the receiver. In case of a robot you can program its computer accordingly, but in case of a human you need to stimulate the peripheral nerves that remains attached to a prosthetic limb in just the right way for them to carry the signals to the brain.
The artificial finger is equipped with an array of pressure sensitive sensors mimicking the spacial resolution of a real finger. The artificial skin covering the array allows them to perceive vibrations. So far experiments indicates that a person using it would be able to determine if the surface is smooth or scratchy. It is a start. Our sense of touch is very refined and to mimic it in all its nuances is a very difficult task.