A Robotic Sense of Touch Can Do More Than Help Robots Poke Berries

Stanford researchers are developing an electronic glove that would provide machines with a robotic sense of touch. The glove is equipped with three-layered sensors that mimic the human skin’s ability to detect pressure, which is what allow us to pick up small, delicate objects. Although these sensors are being tested by performing trivial tasks -picking up ping pong balls and poking berries – they could improve robots, including robots used in manufacturing.

Reinventing the wheel

People are really good at picking things up. We can pick up large, light objects and small, heavy objects. We can pick up different shapes, and we can can pick up items with different textures. Flat, round, bumpy, smooth, familiar, or strange, we can pick it up.

Robots, on the other hand, aren’t quite as skilled as people when it comes to picking things up. This is especially true in uncontrolled environments. So, we’ve invented ways to help robots grab things: suction cups, claws, conveyors, etc.

Sometimes roboticists try to equip robots with the same capabilities as humans, even when it’s not the most sensible design. Why design a robot that can pick something up and carry it across the room like a human would when a conveyor belt does the job even better?

Sometimes researchers really want robots to do things like humans. Machines aren’t limited by human biology, though. Robots don’t have to move in the same way as humans, and they don’t have to perform tasks the same way that people perform them.

From poking berries to saving lives

Stanford’s electronic glove may seem like a step backwards. A suction cup is arguably more effective at picking up a ping pong ball than our clumsy human fingers, and what’s the value in poking a berry? Why try to make a robot that can do things like humans? Why not make a robot that can do those things better?

The goal isn’t to make a ping pong ball plucking robot, or a berry poking robot, or even an egg picking robot. It’s to unlock a new type of technology that can improve other areas of robotics.

A robotic sense of touch could be even better than our human sense of touch. Our senses can fail us. Distraction, stress, or other variables can influence how aware of our different senses we are.

Think of a child tapping on his mother’s arm, who never notices because she’s trying to simultaneously pay for groceries and  corral the youngest sibling who keeps trying to run off. Think of a time when you were stressed to meet a deadline and focused on reading an email, so it takes your coworker calling your name three or four times before he gets your attention.

Sensors always sense regardless of how many distractions, stimuli, or variables are present.

The sensors being developed at Stanford could be embedded in a robotic skin and used in robots in any number of applications. A robotic sense of touch could keep workers safe, prevent crashing, and help avoid machine damage, just to name a few.

Call 479-422-0390 for Indramat

A robotic sense of touch is certainly a neat idea, but it’s going to be a long time before you have to worry about three-layered sensors on your factory machinery. For now, just focus on your servos. Call 479-422-0390 for service, support, or repair for Indramat systems.