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Video: Robots Develop Sense of Touch
7/6/2012

The BioTac tactile robotic sensor is built to mimic the human fingertip and uses algorithms imitating human strategies to identify textures by touch.   (Source: SynTouch)
The BioTac tactile robotic sensor is built to mimic the human fingertip and uses algorithms imitating human strategies to identify textures by touch.
(Source: SynTouch)

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Beth Stackpole
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Possible use cases?
Beth Stackpole   7/6/2012 7:49:00 AM
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One more example of how technology is making robots much more human-like. But what's the business benefit of having a robot develop a sense of touch? Are there specific applications where this kind of added capability would be useful?

naperlou
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Re: Possible use cases?
naperlou   7/6/2012 11:10:42 AM
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Beth, I can think of one right off the bat from some groups I have been talking to.  The application is automated product inspection.  This is done now with vision systems.  Adding a tactile sensor to the inspection system would be useful in a lot of situations.  Presently, we use vision systems to evaluate texture of surfaces.  This could be tuned to be more accurate.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Possible use cases?
Ann R. Thryft   7/6/2012 12:35:03 PM
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naperlou thanks, those are good examples of how this technology could supplement existing inspection technology. Same goes for various robotic handling and sorting functions, some of which also already use machine vision and could be supplemented by robots with a sense of touch.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Possible use cases?
Rob Spiegel   7/6/2012 12:54:16 PM
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Nice article and video, Ann. As the narrator notes, ultimately, the data from the robotic touch has to get between the ears of the user. I would think there is a wide range of uses for this technology.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Possible use cases?
Ann R. Thryft   7/6/2012 12:18:48 PM
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The main applications mentioned by the researchers are giving industrial robots a finer sense of touch for distinguishing more easily and quickly among objects they handle, as well as prosthetic hands for people.

Beth Stackpole
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Re: Possible use cases?
Beth Stackpole   7/6/2012 12:20:12 PM
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Makes sense and I can definitely see how injecting the sense of touch could improve some inspection type applications.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Possible use cases?
Rob Spiegel   7/6/2012 1:39:27 PM
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Those applications make sense, Ann. I would imagine there are tons of other applications as well. This technology would probably be useful in search and rescue as well as military applications.

Charles Murray
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Re: Possible use cases?
Charles Murray   7/6/2012 5:25:00 PM
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Ann, a few years ago, doctors at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago were talking about adding touch to prosthetic limbs. I wonder if this would make it easier to do that, or if it would even be possible to send the signals from this finger to the human brain.

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Possible use cases?
Ann R. Thryft   7/9/2012 12:24:41 PM
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Chuck, prosthetic limbs were included by the researchers as a possible application for this. But sending signals to the brain would be a whole different set of hardware and software.

gsmith120
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Re: Possible use cases?
gsmith120   7/9/2012 1:05:38 PM
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Ann, good article.. I really like the video. 

Charles exactly what I was thinking.. if it was possible to somehow wire the finger/arm such that the signal would stimulate the brain in such a way that it would think the person was actually touch something.Charles exactly what I was thinking.. if it was possible to somehow wire the finger/arm such that the signal would stimulate the brain in such a way that it would think the person was actually touch something.  If they don't have this capability now, I'm sure it will be just around the corner.

Mike J
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Re: Possible use cases?
Mike J   7/9/2012 2:28:54 PM
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Seems a few groups are working on this.

Here's a Sandia press release (and a taste of it)-

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-02/dnl-ssb022112.php

"The challenges are numerous. Interfaces must be structured so nerve fibers can grow through. They must be mechanically compatible so they don't harm the nervous system or surrounding tissues, and biocompatible to integrate with tissue and promote nerve fiber growth. They also must incorporate conductivity to allow electrode sites to connect with external circuitry, and electrical properties must be tuned to transmit neural signals."

Ann R. Thryft
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Re: Possible use cases?
Ann R. Thryft   7/17/2012 11:56:21 AM
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Mike J, you're right. Every interesting development in robot R&D is being researched by more than one organization, and there are a huge number of robot labs in universities. For every subject like this one there's usually a handful of different approaches, too.

TJ McDermott
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Looking to the future
TJ McDermott   7/6/2012 3:49:14 PM
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Sometimes, you can see the future.

Future generations of this sensor, combined with sensors for temperature and pressure will give a very close approximation of human sensorium.  Whatever sort of actuators available at that time (Festo does have some interesting ones now) will provide movement.  Detxerous, sensing fingers are the result.  Sensors and actuators will likely be connected to a local network router in order to simplify the trunks feeding back to the central core of the robot.

Human-like manipulators will make for very, very useful general-purpose robots, ones that don't need custom tooling to perform a job.

 

btwolfe
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Sensor will need serious processing
btwolfe   7/9/2012 10:53:22 AM
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This looks like an intersting development in sensors, but, beyond the $15000 cost of the development kit, you're going to have to invest a lot of time towards developing algorithms to interpret the sensor signals.

 

From an automated grapsing perspective, I can imagine a system that uses the BioTac signals to detect slippage of a grasped object and automatically tighten the gripping force to compensate. This would allow lower grasping forces in mobile robot manipulation tasks where overly tight grasping is the norm.

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