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Robots that can touch and feel?

24th June 2012

What does a robot feel when it touches something? Little or nothing, until now. But with the right sensors, actuators and software program, robots can be given the sense of feel – or at least the ability to identify different materials by touch.

Researchers at the University of Southern California have designed a robot that can outperform humans in identifying a wide range of materials according to their textures - paving the way for advancements in prostheses, personal assistive robots and consumer product testing.

The robot was equipped with a new type of tactile sensor built to mimic the human fingertip. It also used a newly designed algorithm to make decisions about how to explore the outside world by imitating human strategies. Capable of other human sensations, the sensor can also tell where and in which direction forces are applied to the fingertip and even the thermal properties of an object being touched.

Built by Jeremy Fishel, Ph.D., the specialised robot was trained on 117 common materials gathered from fabric, stationery and hardware stores. When confronted with one material at random, the robot could correctly identify the material 95% of the time.



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