New technology uses light to simulate touching in robotic hand.
A new technology is encouraging scientists in their efforts to make robots more sensitive to touch, like human hands, and researchers at Cornell University think they are on the way to manufacturing a robot hand that is close to responding like a human hand.
According to the Christian Science Monitor, a paper just published in the journal Science Robotics robotic engineers wrote about their latest innovation, called the “Gentle Bot” that can not only touch fragile items, but can also use its sensors to “feel” the shape and texture of such items.
Soft robotic technology isn’t a new concept, many warehouses use it to handle foods and like products, but the new technology that powers the Gentle Bot has the potential to allow for the handling of even more fragile items, and may even lead to interactions with humans.
The basic concept of soft robotic technology uses electricity to sense items that the robotic hand was touching, which means the object would have to able to conduct electricity to be recognized, whereas the Gentle Bot uses light. By installing LEDs into the hand’s fingers, which work with a light detector to measure the amount of light being received. Similar to the body’s network of nerves, the Gentle Bot has internal optic cords that respond in kind.
Huichan Zhao, a doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering at Cornell and the lead author on the study, said there new robot hand differed from others because other versions had their sensors on the outside.
“Our sensors are integrated within the body, so they can actually detect forces being transmitted through the thickness of the robot,” according to Zhao, “a lot like we and all organisms do when we feel pain, for example.”
And another plus for the new technology is that relying on light signals instead of electricity allows for making the hands more cheaply, and the researchers hope that one day the technology can be used to provide cheaper prosthetic devices.
“Soft robotics provides a chance to make a soft hand that is more close to a human hand,” added Zhao.