BEACON TRANSCRIPT – Scientists have been trying for quite some time to help robots or prosthetic hands “feel” what they have been touching. This would be an essential element as it would help better ‘disable a bomb’ or perhaps catch a falling egg, as a new study points out.
Now, University of Washington scientists believe to have come up with a solution for this through their invention of a flexible, sensor “skin”.
The Flexible Sensor Should Allow Robotic Parts to Feel the Force
Together with a team of UCLA engineers, the researchers developed a sensor “skin”, for which they drew inspiration from nature. This mimics a human finger’s ability to experience compression and tension as it distinguishes textures or slides along a surface.
Similarly, the flexible sensor created by the team can be stretched over a surface and act as a sort of “skin”. This should be capable of accurately conveying information about forces and vibrations. Being able to feel these is a crucial element in trying to successfully grasp or manipulate an object.
“By mimicking human physiology in a flexible electronic skin, we have achieved a level of sensitivity and precision that’s consistent with human hands, which is an important breakthrough,” states Jonathan Posner.
He is the study’s senior author and a professor of chemical engineering and mechanical engineering at UW.
The team behind this new prototype claims that their artificial “skin” is capable of measure tactile information related to force with as much sensitivity and almost the same precision as the human skin.
This flexible sensor “skin” is made out of silicone rubber and embedded with small, serpentine channels. Electrically conductive liquid metal circulates through these, which also helps prevent them from cracking.
The “skin” can then be placed on a robot finger, which, upon sliding its thumb down a surface, should see a compression of its “nailbed” while the other side stretched out.
These effects can then be measured, and the vibrations and forces felt by the robot finger calculated.
This robotic mimicry of a human thumb, which functions just like a real one, could lead to a breakthrough in the area of soft robotics as prosthetic limbs or robotic arms could start performing more delicate tasks.
A paper with detailed research and product development processes is available in the journal Sensors and Actuators A: Physical.
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