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Harvard Lab Shows off New Robot Touch Sensors


You probably do not give it a lot of thought, but when it comes to the way we sense the world humans and robots are not that different. We all use sensors. For humans we call those sensors things like eyes, ears and skin. If you're a robot having as many sensors as a human may not be practical, but it may just be possible in the near future.

A research team working at Harvard University's Biorobotics Laboratory , a part of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, has developed a new and less expensive tactile sensor for robots. For those of you not familiar with the idea a tactile sensor allows a robot to know that it has come in contact with something, whether that is a can of coke or the hand it is trying to shake. Think of it as the digital version of the nerves that run under your skin.

The sensor, which has been dubbed TakkTile, is so inexpensive that it would be possible for inventors without a research budget and teachers to use the tool without significant cost issues. In a release put out by the school the benefits of the sensor were explained:

“Despite decades of research, tactile sensing hasn’t moved into general use because it’s been expensive and fragile," explains co-creator Leif Jentoft, a graduate student at SEAS. "It normally costs about $16,000, give or take, to put tactile sensing on a research robot hand. That’s really limited where people can use it. The traditional technology also uses very specialized construction techniques, which can slow down your work. Now, Takktile changes that because it's based on much simpler and cheaper fabrication methods."

The sensor is currently sensitive enough to allow a robot hand to safely  pick up a balloon without popping it.

Image: Harvard